The World Bank announced Thursday that it is providing $150 million to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean fight the Zika virus that is spreading rapidly through the region.

The funding, being made available immediately, comes after extensive consultations with governments in the region, the bank said in a statement. The bank said it could provide additional financing if needed.

Based on its projections, the short-term economic impact of Zika on the region is likely to be about $3.5 billion. The countries that are likely to see significant impacts include: Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Belize and Jamaica.

But countries whose economies depend significantly on tourism could "suffer significant foregone incomes," the bank said.

Because the outbreak is at an early stage, much remains unknown about transmission and broader medical effects, the bank said. "The short-term economic costs of the disease are driven by behavior to avoid transmission, especially from the highest at-risk groups, which are considered now to be women of child-bearing age."


Juliana da Silva, is illuminated by a ray of sunlight as she holds her daughter Maria, who was born with microcephaly, inside their house in Alcantil, Paraiba state, Brazil on Feb. 7. (AP/Felipe Dana)

The bank's announcement follows an announcement earlier this week by the the World Health Organization, which said it will take $56 million to kickstart a coordinated international response to the Zika virus outbreak racing through much of the Americas. The WHO plans to tap a newly created emergency contingency fund to pay for the initial efforts.

In a lengthy action plan published Tuesday,  the organization said a hefty chunk of the money will go toward disease surveillance, which will include tracking new Zika cases and the suspected birth defects and rare autoimmune syndrome that scientists suspect are linked to the mosquito-borne virus. More funding will be used to help provide counseling to pregnant women, as well as to help communities with mosquito-control programs. Still more funds will go toward research to speed the development of new vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, as well as to study whether and how Zika is causing serious conditions such as microcephaly.

More than half the money will be spread among a collection of international partners, including non-governmental organizations and research institutions such as Unicef, AmeriCares, Save the Children, the International Medical Corps and the University of Texas Medical Branch. The remaining funds will be disbursed within the WHO and its regional offices in the Americas -- known as the Pan American Health Organization -- to help carry out the plan through June. Earlier this month, the organization declared the Zika outbreak and the accompanying spike in congenital brain abnormalities in newborns to be a public health emergency of international concern.

The resources detailed by the WHO are much less than those sought by the Obama administration, which earlier this month asked Congress for $1.8 billion to respond to the Zika virus abroad and prepare for it at home.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Zika virus and its spread across North and South America. (Daron Taylor,Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

About $828 million of the administration's request would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which already has put its emergency operations center in Atlanta on the highest level of alert to monitor the disease. The White House also proposed $250 million for a one-year increase in Medicaid funds for Puerto Rico, which has seen a growing number of Zika infections. The administration would pump $200 million into accelerated vaccine and testing techniques for Zika through the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, and $210 million would go to a new fund to respond to new outbreaks if they appear in the United States.

The rest of the administration's funding request would help other countries respond to the virus. It would include $335 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development and $41 million for the State Department to respond across South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

While only a single case of locally acquired Zika infection has been reported in the continental United States -- this one through sexual transmission -- more than 50 travel-related cases of the disease have been confirmed. With the virus having now spread to dozens of countries throughout the Americas, the CDC has recommended that pregnant women consider postponing travel to affected areas. The WHO said it anticipates that "Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are found" -- an area that includes the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have each advised women to postpone getting pregnant until more is known about the virus and the suspected harm it may cause a fetus, the WHO said.

In releasing Tuesday's action plan, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the Zika outbreak is "particularly serious" due to the potential for its further spread, the lack of immunity among many populations and the absence of vaccines, treatments and tests to detect the disease. What's needed, she said, is a forceful response "to prevent further outbreaks and control them when they do occur, and to facilitate research that will help us better understand this virus and its effects."

This post has been updated.

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