The rise of Zika infection and microcephaly: what can we learn from a public health emergency?

B. McCloskey*, Tina Endericks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives To consider why Zika was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), why it stopped being one and what we can learn from this for the future. Study design This paper reviews the sequence of events and evidence base for the decision to declare Zika a PHEIC, the global response to this, the challenges in maintaining an evidence-based approach to outbreak response and identifies learning outcomes. Methods Evidence review, all published articles in reputable UK and international journals were identified. Results The association between Zika virus infection and congenital malformations including microcephaly became a PHEIC on 1st February 2016 and was declared to be no longer an emergency in November 2016. This shaped the global response led by WHO in the first global emergency since Ebola in West Africa. Conclusion The response to Zika highlights important issues and lessons for future outbreaks that might pose an international risk. Particular challenges arose in trying to maintain an evidence-based approach to public risk communication when the evidence is unclear or still evolving. The Zika incident also demonstrates the importance of public health practitioners and agencies understanding the political context in which outbreaks must be managed and understanding the competing factors that shape the political response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalPublic Health
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Royal Society for Public Health


  • Emergency response
  • Global Health Security
  • Lessons identified
  • Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)
  • WHO
  • Zika


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