The WHO (World Health Organization) has declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus to be an international public health emergency as the dreaded disease linked to thousand cases of birth defects in Brazil and spreads rapidly.
The declaration came amid news that 50 cases of Zika virus infections spreads in Panama and across countries in Central America.
The 50 confirmed cases in Panama were concentrated in the predominantly indigenous region of Guna Yala along its Caribbean coast.
According to WHO, 13 countries in the Americas, as well as in Asia, Africa, from where it originated have been reportedly infected.
In Colombia, more than 20,000 cases of Zika, including 2,100 pregnant women were reported. Colombia’s forecasting will see more than 650,000 infections.
WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, said that there is an “urgent need to coordinate international efforts to understand whether Zika virus is causing birth defects.”
Last week, the agency convened an emergency meeting of independent experts to assess the outbreak.
WHO is totally under pressure to act swiftly in fight against Zika, after the recent Ebola outbreak that ravaged parts of West Africa with fatalities of more than 11,300.
The UN health body said that there was a causal relationship between the surge cases of microcephaly and mosquito-borne Zika virus, resulting in the condition of babies born with smaller-than-usual brains.
The WHO also said the Zika virus was “spreading explosively” and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas.
Thomas Frieden, head of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the declaration on Zika, “calls the world to action.”
The move should help fast-track international action and research priorities as well as prompting possible treatments and vaccines.