WASHINGTON – The World Bank said on Thursday it is making $150 million in financing immediately available to help combat the Zika virus outbreak in affected Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The multilateral lender said in a statement that it stands ready to increase its support if needed, and the initial amount is based on current demands from the affected countries and assessments from teams of experts sent there.
The World Bank also released initial projections for the economic impact of the largely mosquito-borne virus, saying it expects it to reduce the region's 2016 economic output by $3.5 billion, or 0.06 percent of GDP. That forecast, however, assumes the international response to the Zika outbreak is swift and well-coordinated.
Its forecast for the modest impact also assumes that the most significant health risks are for pregnant women.
The World Health Organization has cited a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition in newborns marked by abnormally small heads and brains that have not developed properly.
The WHO declared the outbreak a global public health emergency on Feb. 1.
Brazil, the country worst hit, said it has confirmed more than 500 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 3,900 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.
The World Bank said a group of Caribbean and Latin American countries that are highly dependent on tourism could lose more than one percent of gross domestic product this year. It did not name the countries but said they might require additional support from the international community.
"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 in a statement.
In 2014, Kim criticized the world's "disastrously inadequate response" to West Africa's Ebola virus outbreak, saying that it caused many needless deaths.
The World Bank said its Zika financing will support a wide range of activities related to the Zika response, including surveillance of the virus' spread, identifying at-risk people, access to family planning and public awareness.