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Journal Articles Social Studies of Science Year : 2021

Imperfect diagnosis: The truncated legacies of Zika testing


When the Zika virus burst onto the international scene in the second half of 2015, the development of diagnostic tools was seen as an urgent global health priority. Diagnostic capacity was restricted to a small number of reference laboratories, and none of the few available molecular or serological tests had been validated for extensive use in an outbreak setting. In the early weeks of the crisis, key funders stepped in to accelerate research and development efforts, and the WHO took responsibility for steering diagnostic standardization, a role it had successfully played during the West Africa Ebola virus outbreak. Yet when the WHO declared the end of the Zika Public Health Emergency of International Concern in November 2016, diagnostic capacity remained patchy, and few tools were available at the scale required in the countries that bore the brunt of the epidemic, particularly Brazil. This article analyses the limited impact of global R&D efforts on the availability of Zika diagnostic options where they were most needed and for those most vulnerable: women who might have been exposed to the virus during their pregnancy and children born with suspected congenital Zika syndrome. The truncated legacies of testing during the Zika crisis reveal some of the fault lines in the global health enterprise, particularly the limits of ‘emergency R&D’ to operate in geopolitical contexts that do not conform to the ideal type of a humanitarian crisis, or to tackle technical issues that are inextricably linked to domestic struggles over the scope and distribution of biological citizenship. Diagnostic shortcomings, we argue, lie at the heart of the stunning transformation, in less than two years, in the status of Zika: from international public health emergency to neglected disease.
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hal-03480017 , version 1 (16-12-2021)


Attribution - CC BY 4.0



Koichi Kameda, Ann H. Kelly, J Lezaun, Ilana Löwy. Imperfect diagnosis: The truncated legacies of Zika testing. Social Studies of Science, 2021, 51 (5), pp.683-706. ⟨10.1177/03063127211035492⟩. ⟨hal-03480017⟩
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