Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell today met in Rio de Janeiro with a leading group of Brazilian scientific and medical experts representing a range of Zika virus research disciplines. Secretary Burwell is in Brazil as the Head of the Presidential Delegation to the 2016 Paralympic Games.
The group discussed the lessons learned from Brazil’s response to the introduction and spread of Zika virus, the priorities for research and interventions going forward, and ways Brazil is addressing the challenge of providing essential services to the infants and families affected by Zika. Secretary Burwell discussed with the group what the U.S. and others can learn from the Brazilian experience as the U.S. begins to see infants with Zika-related microcephaly.
The group provided Secretary Burwell with updates on the latest research activities in Brazil and agreed that developing improved diagnostics for Zika is a critical priority. They noted that available evidence suggests that microcephaly is just part of a spectrum of effects from congenital Zika infection and that education for families will be important to support those affected. The Brazilian experts noted that there are still many unanswered questions about the impact of Zika infection, and that additional epidemiological investigations are needed to better identify and define other potential health effects of Zika. Secretary Burwell and the group agreed that the Zika in Infants and Pregnancy cohort study (ZIP), a partnership with HHS’ National Institutes of Health, is essential to better define who is at risk for complications from Zika infection.
Secretary Burwell closed the meeting by thanking the experts for their input and by reiterating the vital importance of joint U.S.-Brazil collaborations on health, including Zika, HIV and a range of other public health issues. All participants agreed that there are many promising opportunities for future collaborations.