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Zika Outbreak

02 febrero 2016

On 1 February 2016, taking into account the recent outbreak of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar outbreak in French Polynesia in 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Committee on Zika virus, declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) to deal with the situation.

Governments are already taking several steps to fight and contain the Zika virus spread. The virus has apparently spread in over 20 countries and is linked to cases of microcephaly (babies born with underdeveloped brains).

It is likely that global warming as well as the 2015-16 El Niño phenomenon (one of the strongest since 1950) affecting different parts of the world with adverse weather conditions - severe drought, flooding, heavy rains and temperature rises, are contributing to the crisis.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has been closely monitoring recent developments regarding the current Zika spread and El Niño and has been liaising with relevant international bodies to ensure that WCO Members with public health safety and natural disaster responsibilities are properly informed about the situation and are involved in national response strategies.

At the level of borders, many WCO Members play a significant role in national response strategies to mitigate public health and safety risks as well as in facilitating humanitarian relief operations. Customs administrations are often countries’ "first and last lines of defence", and Customs officers are among the first government authorities to meet travellers and crew members on board arriving vessels, aircraft, and other types of transport and to deal with cross-border shipments. In this context, it is of utmost importance that Customs administrations are adequately integrated as part of the response mechanisms and know, for example, about the precautionary, preventative and response measures to deal with potential high-risk situations at borders, and equally how to protect Customs staff itself to the extent possible from potential infections.

The WCO will keep a close watch on the Zika outbreak and is monitoring the latest border-related developments in this regard. Through its recently launched ‘Information and Intelligence Centre’ (I2C), the WCO will regularly observe the situation and provide useful Customs-related information and links regarding the virus, including latest updates on the outbreak to enable Customs administrations to play an effective role in border control measures and, where required efficient flow of related humanitarian consignments, equipment and personnel.

WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya called upon Customs administrations to work closely with other government agencies to control the spread of the Zika virus and to facilitate the movement of relief consignments. "This crisis demands a collaborative response and the global Customs community is committed to ensure a safe and facilitative environment for cross-border trade and travel flow," said Secretary General Mikuriya.

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