Islamabad - Currently no Zika virus case has been reported from the World Health Organisation (WHO) region in which Pakistan is located, health experts informed a meeting held to review preparedness to deal with any emerging situation in Pakistan.

In the wake of spread of Zika Virus in Latin America and the disease being declared a Public Health Emergency of international concern by the WHO, a National Consultation on Zika Virus Preparedness and Response was held under the chair of Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar here yesterday.

High ranking officials of the Ministry of National Health Services, senior experts of infectious diseases from provinces and international agencies along with country head of WHO participated in the meeting.

It was agreed to utilise infrastructure in place for Prevention and Control of Dengue for the purpose of controlling Zika virus as the virus itself is closely related to the Dengue virus. Based on recommendations of the meeting a national contingency plan will be developed and shared with all stakeholders.

Speaking on the occasion, the minister said the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination is alive to the situation following reports of Zika virus cases in some countries particularly in Latin America. We are closely monitoring the situation, she said.

She recalled that a joint statement with WHO had been issued on 29th January to impart general awareness on the disease through scientifically correct information. The global situation has escalated since then with the Zika virus now being reported from 33 countries mostly in Latin America.

The categorisation as public health emergency of international concern has been made in view of the link of Zika virus infection with severe birth defects.

The cases of severe birth defects previously reported in Brazil form 2001 to 2011 were on an average 163 per year. The figure from 2014 to 2016 has jumped to 4783 cases per year including 76 deaths.

The minister said the fact that both Zika virus and Dengue are caused by the same mosquito which is prevalent in our country and that Zika virus itself is closely related to the Dengue virus calls for extreme vigilance and close monitoring of the situation in Pakistan.

She recalled that her Ministry had responded to the threat of Ebola with development of an action plan and building response capacities through establishment of skilled teams at the federal, provincial and district levels.

Likewise, she said the ministry in partnership with provincial departments and technical partners is preparing to undertake necessary measures for prevention and control of potential spread of Zika virus in the country.