French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has announced the creation of a new research and surveillance centre for emerging diseases in the Indian Ocean region by the end of the year. The announcement was made by the Prime Minister during a visit on 18 May to the island of Réunion, where the crippling mosquito-borne disease, Chikungunya, has continued to spread since its outbreak in February 2005. 'The research centre will provide a platform of excellence and will be open to research groups from around the world working on tropical diseases and their vectors,' said Mr de Villepin, adding that an initial budget of 2.2 million euro has been earmarked by the French Ministry of Education and Research for setting up the centre. So far, 256,000 people on the island of Réunion have been infected with the Chikungunya disease, and although not fatal, it has been cited on a total of 215 death certificates. While the number of cases decreased by half in the first week of May, the incidence of infection remains high, claim observers. Mr de Villepin praised continuing efforts to contain the spread of Chikungunya, for which no vaccine exists, which involve spraying the island to protect it from mosquitoes, which carry the disease. 'Our efforts to tackle the vector of the disease have been successful,' he said. 'Our aim now is treat 200,000 households by the end of the month.' The Prime Minister was also optimistic about the 'enormous headway' being made in developing a vaccine for the disease by the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the Pasteur Institute. He announced that clinical trials would start in December.