• In a bid to provide support to countries majorly affected by the Zika virus, -in Latin America and the Caribbean- the World Bank Group (WBG) has announced that it has made $150 million immediately available.

    According to World Bank, this amount is based on current country demands for financing and follows extensive engagement with governments across the region, including sending teams of technical experts to affected countries.

    “Our analysis underscores the importance of urgent action to halt the spread of the Zika virus and to protect the health and well-being of people in the affected countries,” said Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. “The World Bank Group stands ready to support the countries affected by this health crisis and to provide additional support if needed.”

    The CDC is investigating new reports of possible sexual transmission of the virus

    The World Bank’s support comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is embarking on investigating 14 new reports of possible sexual transmission of the Zika virus.

    According to the CDC, a number of these cases are among pregnant women.

    The CDC said in a statement that the new “reports suggest sexual transmission may be a more likely means of transmission for Zika virus than previously considered."

    "CDC and state public health departments are now investigating 14 new reports of possible sexual transmission of Zika virus, including several involving pregnant women," the CDC said in a statement.

    According to the CDC, two of the new suspected sexual transmission cases are in women whose only known risk is sexual contact with an infected male partner who had recently traveled to an infected area.

    Speaking to NBC News, the CDC's Dr Anne Schuchat said that only two cases are confirmed. Schuchat added that all of the suspected cases involved men who had traveled potentially infecting women who had not.

    "In each of the episodes, a man was traveling to a Zika affected area, developed symptoms that were consistent with Zika, and within two weeks…a female partner developed symptoms consistent with the virus," she said.

    According to WBG, the financing will support a range of activities critical to the Zika virus response, including vector surveillance and control; identification of the people most at-risk, especially pregnant women and women of reproductive age; follow-up and care through pregnancy and postnatal care for neurological complications; promoting access to family planning, public awareness, self-protection measures, community mobilization; and other activities that will ensure a robust, well-targeted, well-coordinated and multi-sectoral response.

    World Bank Group teams are actively working with the affected countries on their Zika response plans and responding to requests for technical support.

    “Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have made it a priority to respond to the Zika virus emergency,” said Jorge Familiar Calderon, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. Reflecting on his recent trip to Panama, where he visited the indigenous Kuna community of Usdub, he said, “I’ve seen firsthand how communities across the region are working together to successfully protect the population from the Zika virus. We stand ready to continue supporting their efforts through technical advice, knowledge sharing, and financing.”

    World Bank estimates that the short-term economic impact of the Zika virus on the region will be modest, totaling US$3.5 billion, or 0.06% of GDP in 2016. The World Bank Group noted, however, that these initial estimates are predicated on a swift, well-coordinated international response to the Zika virus. They also assume that the most significant health risks—and related behaviors to avoid transmission—are for pregnant women. This follows the World Health Organization’s February 1 declaration of the suspected link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly in newborns.

    WBG noted that despite the assumptions, a group of countries highly dependent on tourism—notably in the Caribbean—could suffer losses in excess of 1 percent of GDP and may require additional support from the international community to stem the economic impact of the virus. As new knowledge continues to emerge about Zika virus transmission and impact, or should public perceptions of risks from Zika rise sharply, the economic impacts will be reassessed.

    Zika is spreading fast across the Americas and the Caribbean and the World Health Organization has declared it a public health emergency of world concern. Apart from mere symptoms associated with Zika, the virus is suspected to be also causing birth defects.

    Women of childbearing age and those planning to have children soon have been advised to follow the CDC’s guidelines for prevention of Zika Virus. With cases about sexual transmission rising, the CDC has also availed an interim guideline for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus.

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