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Zika virus to spread across Americas, warns WHO

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GENEVA/LONDON — The mosquito-borne Zika linked, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, causing Australia to issue new travel advice.

Zika has not yet been reported in the continental United States, although a woman who fell ill with the virus in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said in November that Zika was linked to a foetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains.

Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last Friday, more than 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1 to 2 per cent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.

New advice issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday night listed 22 countries of concern, including Pacific neighbour Samoa.

The advice said Samoa was the only country in the region with an ongoing outbreak after previous incidences on Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, and French Polynesia.

The Zika outbreak comes hard on the heels of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, demonstrating once again how little-understood diseases can rapidly emerge as global threats.

“We’ve got no drugs and we’ve got no vaccines. It’s a case of deja vu because that’s exactly what we were saying with Ebola,” Trudie Lang, a professor of global health at the University of Oxford, said.

“It’s really important to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

The virus is not expected to be a problem in Canada and Chile due to the absence of the type of mosquitoes that carry the virus in those countries.

Large drug-makers’ investments in tropical disease vaccines with uncertain commercial prospects have so far been patchy, prompting health experts to call for a new system of incentives following the Ebola experience.

“We need to have some kind of a plan that makes (companies) feel there is a sustainable solution and not just a one-shot deal, over and over again,” said Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, last week.

Reuters

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Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa narrowly escapes explosion at party rally

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HARARE — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly escaped injury in an explosion on Saturday which has rocked a stadium where Zimbabwe’s president was addressing a campaign rally, with state media calling it an assassination attempt but saying the president was not hurt.

President Mnangagwa was whisked to a state house in Bulawayo, where he had been speaking ahead of next month’s historic election, the first since longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down.

The explosion occurred as the president, accompanied by other politicians, was walking off the stage at the White City stadium after addressing thousands of supporters in advance of next month’s vote.

Mnangagwa, the 75-year-old leader of ZANU-PF, was not hurt and taken to safety, officials said. However, witnesses said several people were injured, including the Vice-President.

Several others including number security personnel, the wife of fellow Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the environment minister and the deputy speaker of parliament also suffered wounds.

Agencies

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