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TTC Special: ZIKA virus threatens human health and regional economy

By F. Martin

TTC Service.- The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has found that the Zika outbreak could cost to Latin America and Caribbean countries USD 18bn by 2018.

According to the study, those huge losses will be caused by the falling of tourism revenues, the strain on health systems and lost productivity. The poorest countries in the region are likely to be hit the hardest.

Since 2015, the virus has already affected hundreds of thousands of people in Latin America, especially Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States

The virus has a low rate of lethality. Cannot be compared to other such dangerous ones as Ebola, which have caused great medical mobilizations in the world.

But scientists indicate that the Zika cannot be taken lightly. Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. However, a pregnant woman can pass Zika to her developing fetus. The virus can cause serious birth defects. Also can spread through sex with a man or woman who has Zika.

A research from the American Wayne State University, U.S., showed that the Zika virus can damage retina cells in the eyes, and in some cases cause blindness. The research showed that the Zika virus mostly killed cells specifically lining the blood-retinal barrier, the retinal endothelium, and retinal pigment epithelium.

The virus danger to human health is obvious. Threats also seem clear for Caribbean economies.

The UNDP’s report estimated the virus could cost the region between $7bn in the best case scenario and $18bn in the worst, from 2015, when the outbreak began, to 2018.

Jessica Faieta, UN assistant secretary-general and UNDP director for Latin America and the Caribbean, warned about more intangible costs.

Aside from losses to GDP and to economies heavily dependent on tourism, and the stresses on health care systems, the long-term consequences of the Zika virus can undermine decades of social development, hard-earned health gains and slow down progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.

Caribbean nations rely heavily on tourism, and more than 80% of potential losses in the sub region would result from declining revenues brought by visitors from abroad.