Health experts warn WHO over zika virus
Health experts are urging the World Health Organisation to consider whether the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the Zika outbreak.
The 150 experts – including former White House science adviser Dr Philip Rubin – issued an open letter to the UN health agency on Friday, calling for the games to be delayed or relocated ‘in the name of public health.’
The letter cited recent scientific evidence that the Zika virus causes severe birth defects, most notably babies born with abnormally small heads.
In adults, it can cause neurological problems, including a rare syndrome that can be fatal or result in temporary paralysis. The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, infections in Rio have gone up rather than down.
Several public health academics have previously warned that having hundreds of thousands of people head to the August 5-21 games in Brazil will inevitably lead to the births of more brain-damaged babies and speed up the virus’ global spread.
Most people infected by Zika suffer only minor symptoms including fever, a rash and muscle or joint pain.
WHO declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February and in its latest assessment this week, said it ‘does not see an overall decline in the outbreak.’
‘The fire is already burning, but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics,’ said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the letter’s authors.
‘It is not the time now to throw more gasoline onto the fire.’
WHO has already advised pregnant women not to go to Rio and says other travellers should avoid poor and overcrowded parts of the city.
The UN agency also predicted the Zika risk in August would drop since it will be the south American winter and there should be fewer mosquitoes.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said earlier this month that the UN health agency is increasingly worried about Zika but stopped short of recommending the Rio Olympics be moved or postponed.
Among the letter’s signatories are experts from more than two dozen countries in fields including public health, bioethics and paediatrics.