Tag: zika

Transparency during Outbreaks-a Balancing Act?

Communicating about a potential public health concern can put a national voice in a tricky position. This was the situation the Indian government found itself in earlier this year when isolated cases of Zika broke out in the state of Gujarat.

Some argue that it is absolutely essential for the government to keep the public aware of even threats deemed low, as a step towards increased preparedness in the event of an outbreak (Scroll.In). The New York Times cites Dr. Swaminathan, the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, as justifying the lack of communication as rooted in a need to prevent undue panic. Similarly, the Wire interviewed Dr. Ravindran, the director of emergencies in the Ministry of Health and Welfare , who reports that as the WHO did not declare ZIKA as a continued PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern), the government was not obligated to report these cases, as noted in the International Health Regulations. The cases were reported after being further investigated.

Which brings us back to a question of responsibility: What guides risk communication?

A document published in March 2016 by the WHO provides some guidance. They define risk communication as “the real-time exchange of information, advice, and opinions between experts, community leaders, or officials and the people who are at risk”. It goes on to identify who the at-risk populations are, the best channels for communication, and guidelines on content. By and large, it stresses the point that risk communication has the goal of empowering, above and beyond informing.

Social media have had a significant positive impact in real-time health communication in recent years. For instance, SMS/Tweets were used to identify vaccination locations during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. On the other hand, such a large volume of information can be difficult to manage. An example of this chaos was witnessed in the Fall of 2014, when the United States saw an Ebola outbreak (Ratzan, 2014).

All to say…risk communication requires deliberation and thoughtful consideration. While the Zika cases in India continue to be a story that sparks a lot of push-back, rightfully so, it’s important to see the flip side of that coin.





When (and Will) We Have A Zika Vaccine?

President Obama has requested that $1.8 billion in emergency funding be put toward the development of a Zika vaccine, but that doesn’t mean we’ll have a quick fix to one of the world’s most alarming threats to public health.

Although government funding is likely to be soon secured, and several companies are working expeditiously to develop a potential vaccine, experts say we’re at least 18 months away from having a vaccine that’s ready for widespread dissemination.

Unfortunately, the development of vaccines is often a slow process, largely due to federal regulations that prevent testing on human subjects in the early stages of the formation process. Obviously, such regulations are intended to keep subjects safe, but this standard wasn’t always the case. Since the 1940s, scientists tested vaccines on themselves and their family members during their trial and error processes. Remarkably, most cases were a success; however, in 1955, the federal government intervened after a clinical trial left 11 test subjects dead and hundreds more paralyzed. Since then, new rules were created that involve benchmarks that must be followed before pharmaceutical companies can sell vaccines for public use.

This process can (and usually does) take several years of research before scientists can determine a virus’ specific antigen. The vaccine then goes through three stages of testing to determine specifics, such as potential side effects, correct dosage amounts, and whether or not it would be effective among large numbers of people. Obviously, it’s a lengthy process, which, in most cases, is still ongoing when an outbreak’s peak has passed.

It’s a tricky situation, because public health calls for the promotion of health for all, primarily through the prevention of unhealthy outcomes. This makes the speedy development of vaccines seem like a tremendous positive for attacking viruses and disease. However, safety always comes first, thus, preventing a vaccine from causing more harm than good.

So, while the jury is still out on if and when we’ll see a Zika vaccine, we can at least be sure not to see anything for quite some time.