New Zika research in the American Region of WHO

TDR news item
31 January 2017

Seventeen new research proposals aimed at identifying solutions to address the Zika virus will soon be starting in 7 Latin American countries. They range from identifying transmission risk factors to evaluating diagnostic tools and examining the use of prenatal counselling and contraceptives.

Bednets used to protect from mosquito bites
Bednets used to protect from mosquito bites
Credit: WHO/PAHO

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, and last year’s outbreak, particularly in Brazil, was associated with an increase in serious complications among newborn infants. A systematic review conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) researchers in 2016 concluded that Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of congenital brain abnormalities, including microcephaly, and that Zika virus is a trigger of Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare condition in which a person’s immune system attacks the peripheral nerves. Intense efforts have continued to investigate the link between Zika virus and a range of neurological disorders within a rigorous research framework.

These latest projects represent a joint initiative between the WHO Regional Office for the Americas (the Pan American Health Organization), with 2 research programmes based at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland: the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), with its expertise in infectious diseases and vector control; and the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP), which provides skills in sexual, reproductive, maternal and perinatal health. The initiative is part of the research capacity strengthening programmes of HRP and TDR, and has received additional funds from the WHO Zika Strategic Response Plan.

“This is the kind of collaboration that is critical to finding solutions that transcend specialty areas,” says TDR Director John Reeder. “We’re pleased to be contributing to the WHO Zika Strategic Response Framework.”

HRP Director Ian Askew agrees: “The Zika outbreak has challenged conventional approaches to addressing health emergencies. Supporting research that addresses the interactions between transmission, behaviour and outcomes, and that can provide quick and timely information to policymakers, is absolutely essential.”

Seventy-eight proposals were reviewed from 19 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, French Guyana, Granada, Gut, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Trinidad Tobago, United States, and Venezuela).

“These research projects are crucial for improving our understanding of the dynamics of the Zika epidemic – and potential public health solutions,” commented Dr Francisco Becerra, Assistant Director of the Pan American Health Organization and Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.

2016/17 WHO American Region grantees


Country Proposal title Principal Investigators Institution
Brazil Evaluation of acute infection by ZIKV, DENV and CHIKV viruses in transvestite population of 12 Brazilian state capitals using multitests of the qPCR platform Leonardo Foti Instituto de Biologia Molecular do Paraná (IBMP)
Brazil Data mining of social indicators and health databases to detect risk factors of severe forms of Zika virus in Brazil Jussara Rafael Angelo Fundação Para o Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico em Saúde
Brazil Reproductive behavior and perception of risk of Zika virus infection in Brazil Ana Paula de Andrade Verona Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais
Brazil Investigation of the role of Zika virus infection in the epidemic of newborn microcephaly in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil: a prevalence study in pregnant women and neonates. Isadora Cristina de Siqueira Instituto Gonçalo Moniz- Fiocruz
Brazil Contraceptive practices and reproductive preferences among women seeking primary care services: were there any changes after the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil? Ana Luiza Vilela Borges Escola de Enfermagem da Universidade de São Paulo
Brazil Zika virus infection in different biological samples of infected pregnant women; dynamics of the infection and clinical outcomes Sara Santos Bernardes Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde (FCS) da Universidade Federal da Grande Dourados (UFGD)
Brazil Public health policies in emergency situations: the outbreak of Zika virus Ethel Leonor Noia Maciel Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo
Colombia Contraceptive use, prenatal counseling, and abortion in the context of Zika Javier F. Colorado Red de Salud Ladera ESSE
Colombia Identification, characterization and local adaptation of policies for the prevention, detection and care of the Zika virus in 3 municipalities of Colombia and its relation with the National Policy on Sexuality, Sexual Rights and Reproductive Rights Luz Janeth Forero Martínez Asociación Probienestar de la Familia Colombiana – Profamilia
Colombia Response of the health services and clinical approach to pregnant women with Zika in 2 municipalities of Colombia 2015-2017 Jovana Alexandra Ocampo Cañas Universidad de los Andes
Colombia Spatial distribution and temporal variation of risk of Zika virus infection in regions of Colombia during the 2015-2016 epidemic Karen Cecilia Flórez Lozano Universidad del Norte
Honduras Characterization of patients with clinical suspicion of Zika and complications of the newborn attended at the IHSS and Escuela Hospital during 2016-2017 Doria Aracely Carrasco Cerrato Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras
Jamaica Maternal perception and behavior related to reproductive health in the context of Zika in Jamaica Kristen Smith University of the West Indies, Mona
Mexico Field evaluation of a non-commercial ELISA test for the detection of anti-Zika virus IgM in the Yucatan Peninsula Mussaret Bano Zaidi Fundación Mexicana para la Salud, Capitulo Peninsular A. C.
Peru Reproductive concerns and decisions of adolescent girls and adult women in the time of Zika: The role of long-term contraception Elisa Juarez Chavez Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia
Peru Exploring reproductive health decisions under Zika's threat in Piura-Peru Ruth Iguiñiz Romero Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia - Facultad de Salud Pública y Administración
Venezuela Critical path of women affected by Zika and the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights in Venezuela Susana Medinas Salas Asociación Civil de Planificación Familiar PLAFAM. Venezuela

For more information, contact:
At TDR, Dr Garry Aslanyan
At HRP, Dr Anna Thorson
At PAHO, Dr Zaida Yadon or Dr Rodolfo Gomez.