Malaria focus ‘aids Zika fight in Pacific’

The federal government is confident a strong focus on combating malaria across Pacific island nations will hold the region in good stead against the Zika virus.


Tonga declared an epidemic this week with five confirmed cases and 259 suspected cases. Samoa had three confirmed cases in September and October last year and its government has set up seven surveillance sites and has stepped up fogging.

French Polynesia and Vanuatu have also had outbreaks in recent years. Minister for International Development Steve Ciobo said mosquito-borne diseases were an omnipresent challenge in the Pacific and malaria was the most pervasive.

“There is already a lot of effort directed towards dealing with blood-borne, mosquito-carrying diseases,” he told AAP.

He praised the strong regional architecture of the region and the knowledge sharing that took place among health experts.

Mr Ciobo emphasised it was still early days for the Zika outbreak. Zika is transmitted to humans through the bites of infectious Aedes mosquitoes, most commonly Aedes aegypti, the species that transmits dengue in north Queensland.

Most infected people have no symptoms or experience only a mild illness but the virus has been linked to microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which infants are born with undersized heads.

Brazil has reported nearly 4000 suspected cases of microcephaly.

Meanwhile, the University of South Australia wants to import a batch of the virus and plans to work on a vaccine using genetic engineering techniques.

“It’s really a race against the clock to find a vaccine for Zika virus and our lab is starting pre-clinical laboratory based experiments immediately,” Associate Professor John Hayball said.