US Secretary of Health to visit Cuba, attend regional meeting on Zika

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell will visit Cuba on Oct. 20-22 to expand bilateral cooperation and attend a regional meeting on Zika hosted by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the island’s foreign ministry announced on Tuesday.

According to an official statement, Burwell will meet with her Cuban counterpart Roberto Morales, and visit Cuban health institutions to deepen cooperation in an area where the island has important experience.

Since the two nations restored diplomatic relations last year, healthcare cooperation has seen a flurry of activities.

Morales visited Washington in June when both countries agreed to work together on international health issues, particularly against Zika and cholera.

Last week, US President Barack Obama approved a new set of measures to relax the economic embargo on Cuba, including allowing for biotechnology and pharmaceutical products made in Cuba to be sold in the US

Burwell will also participate in a PAHO-sponsored meeting on Zika in Havana to address regional challenges regarding this virus.

This meeting will be the first step in implementing an integrated PAHO strategy for prevention and control of Zika and other arboviruses such as dengue and chikungunya.

Cuba’s ministry of public health has reported 33 cases of Zika this year, one of the lowest rates on the continent.

Earlier this year, President Raul Castro ordered a nationwide campaign to prevent the virus from spreading on the island, including the deployment of 9,000 soldiers to carry out fumigation duties.

Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly in newborns. Scientists are also studying a potential link between Zika infection and Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological disorder that can weaken the muscles and cause paralysis.

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