On July 13, the State Department hosted a roundtable discussion surrounding the private and public sector involvement with Zika at which a number of stakeholder representatives discussed the successes and challenges that come with vector-borne diseases.
The panelists included Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer of the U.S. Navy, Margaret McDonnell of Nothing But Nets, Rabbi Jonah Pesner with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dr. Steve Krause, Director of the Global Public Health business for Valent BioSciences Corporation. The session was moderated by Undersecretary Catherine Novelli from the Department of State.
The discussion focused on several areas including how to raise awareness, how to speed up vaccine development and testing, how to control mosquitoes, and how to bring together both the public and private sectors to fight the growing threat of Zika.
Parties such as Nothing but Nets, with experience in the treatment and response to the malaria epidemic, were invited to share insights on what we’ve learned in the past and how that can be applied to the new challenge of Zika. The panel noted that while there are some similarities in the techniques and strategies of controlling both mosquito-borne diseases, there are also marked differences.
For example, a key intervention in the fight against malaria within developing countries is the use of insecticide-infused bed nets as part of an Integrated Vector Management (IVM) strategy. According to the World Health Organization, between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of children sleeping under an insecticide-treated net in sub-Saharan Africa increased from less than 2% to approximately 68% and in that same time span, it was reported that Africa reduced their malaria incidence rate by 42% and reduced the mortality rate by 66%. The below chart reflects the estimated Malaria incidence and death rates by WHO.
While bed nets are a crowning achievement and example of what can be accomplished when private and public sectors come together to protect public health, the biology of the container breeding mosquitoes that transmit Zika makes outdoor control a priority. As such, the question was raised as to how a partnership similar in structure and based on the learnings from Nothing But Nets could be beneficial in the fight against Zika. Members of the panel also discussed the tools created to combat vector-borne diseases along with potential collaborations with the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), the European Mosquito Control Association (EMCA) and the Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA).
According to Nothing But Nets Director Margaret Reilly McDonnell, there’s no mystery behind the success the organization has had. “A large part of our success and impact against malaria is the result of our strong network of partners – from our UN partners to faith-based organizations and civil society groups like schools and sports teams to private sector companies like Valent [BioSciences]/Sumitomo”, McDonnell said, “Similarly, it was inspiring to see a constellation of partners come together [here] to identify opportunities for collaboration and pathways forward to address Zika. Working together, we can ensure that no child, no mother, no person gets sick, disabled, or dies from a mosquito bite.”
When Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom of the State Department opened the panel, she clearly articulated its purpose.
“Everyone in this room is aware Zika is a growing public health emergency,” Higginbottom said. “We’re here today because we know that we all are part of the solution.”
Whether or not a Zika partnership fashioned after Nothing But Nets will form remains undecided, as researchers continue to gather information on the new disease. Still, the meeting of minds represents a key initial step toward addressing the challenge at hand. Collaboration has long proven to be the best approach toward disease eradication.