European Commission urges support for urgent Zika research
EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
I have been following the development of the Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak with great concern. A few isolated cases have swiftly turned into an outbreak of alarming proportions, with evidence suggesting an ominous link with an upsurge in new-born brain malformations in affected countries. Some countries have already issued advice for women to avoid pregnancy.
Our European values demand that we do not leave other countries to deal with such outbreaks alone. While the risk of transmission of the Zika virus in the EU is still extremely low, there is currently no treatment or vaccine against the virus and that is everyone's problem.
As Commissioner responsible for Research, Science and Innovation, I believe I must use all the means at my disposal within the Horizon 2020 programme to contribute to the international efforts underway to tackle the spreading Zika virus.
I have therefore instructed my services DG Research & Innovation, to mobilise €10 million for urgently needed research on the Zika virus in response to the upsurge in cases of severe congenital brain malformations across Latin America and their suspected link to Zika virus infections. If the link is proven, this money could be used to combat the Zika virus, for example, by developing diagnostics and testing potential treatments or vaccines.
According to the latest information provided to me, Latin America and Brazil, in particular, are by far the most affected regions so far. A few cases have been imported to Europe in recent weeks, but the latest assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) declares that the risk in the EU for transmission of Zika virus infections remains extremely low.
After our successful involvement in tackling the Ebola virus this political decision shows once again that the European Commission is ready to face new epidemics like Zika with fast and effective research, even if there is no immediate threat to Europe. I trust that my request will be approved soon and swiftly by EU Member States.
The good news is that Horizon 2020 already offers opportunities to finance projects that can help in the fight against Zika. One is a €40 million call for research on vaccine development for malaria and neglected infectious diseases, which includes the Zika virus. A further €10 million for research infrastructures will contribute to the control of vector-borne diseases and could combat the mosquitos that spread Zika, as well as a number of other prevalent diseases. The EU is also co-funding research on the prevention of infectious diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean under the ERANET programme.
But there can be no doubt that this emergency budget is needed. There is no time for hesitation or half measures, only action in solidarity with our international partners.