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WB: Fast action needed to lower economic impact of Zika

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Washington: The World Bank said today that a rapid response is necessary to minimize the impact of the Zika virus outbreak on the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean.

With “a swift, well-coordinated international response,” the impact of the mosquito-borne disease will be modest, perhaps taking USD 3.5 billion, or 0.06 percentage points, off of gross domestic product (GDP) for the region this year.

But the island countries of the tourism-dependent Caribbean, where the disease has spread rapidly, could be hit by losses of more than one percent of GDP, the Bank said.

Caribbean and other tourism-dependent countries “may require additional support from the international community to stem the economic impact of the virus,” it said.

Those with the largest risk due to a fall in tourism include Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, Antigua, Belize and Barbados, according to the Bank.

The study of the economic impact assumes that the biggest risk from the disease is for women of child-bearing age, due to the association of Zika with a rise in the rate of children born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads.

However, it said that if Zika is also tied to the paralysis-causing Guillain-Barre syndrome, if transmission by sexual contact is confirmed or if the public becomes even more worried about the disease, the economic impact could be “significantly larger.”

The World Bank said it was making USD 150 million available “immediately” to the Latin America-Caribbean region to support countries affected by the Zika outbreak.

It said it had sent technical teams to affected countries and was ready to increase support if additional funds are needed.

“Our analysis underscores the importance of urgent action to halt the spread of the Zika virus and to protect the health and well-being of people in the affected countries,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

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