Viewpoint: A Zika Vaccine, But for Whom?
The race for a Zika vaccine, one of the most pressing priorities in global health, is at full throttle. More than a dozen companies and government institutions are working to unlock the secrets of the virus, and a vaccine could be available as early as 2018.
But available to whom? If history is any guide, impoverished communities in Africa are likely to be the last in line. And this despite a mounting body of evidence that, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, poor families in Africa might bear the greatest burden of the disease.
Indeed, much of what we have taken for granted about Zika — that it is a threat unique to the Western Hemisphere; that it may only recently have evolved the ability to cause microcephaly and brain damage in babies; and that it hasn’t hurt women and children in Africa — is now in serious doubt.
We know that Zika was first identified in Uganda, in 1947, and that the first documented urban outbreak of the virus occurred in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, in 2007. We know that African strains of Zika — which can probably be transmitted sexually and from mother to child — are present in at least 25 countries across the continent. And we know that Guinea-Bissau, the only mainland African nation to send Zika testing results to the World Health Organization in 2016, has reported three microcephalic babies with clinical data suggesting Zika exposure.
- Health Care