Zika virus will not stop Rio Olympics
WHO answers plea to move or delay Games
The World Health Organisation ( WHO) says there is “no public health justification” for postponing or cancelling the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of the Zika outbreak.
The assessment came after 150 health experts issued an open letter to the UN health agency, 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 virus is thought to be the cause of birth defects for at least 1,300 children in eight countries. The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, the number of infections in Rio has gone up.
A number of athletes and sportsmen have already said they won’t attend the Games because of the threat.
WHO, however, said that “cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus”.
Several public health academics have warned that having hundreds of thousands of people travel to the August 521 games will speed up the virus’ spread.
But WHO argued that Brazil is one of almost 60 countries and territories that are reporting transmission of the virus by mosquitoes, and that “people continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons”.
“Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games,” it said.
The organisation added: “WHO will continue to monitor the situation and update our advice as necessary.” It pointed to its existing advice urging pregnant women not to travel to areas with Zika virus transmission, among other recommendations. WHO declared the spread of Zika in the Americas to be a global emergency in February. The agency’s statement yesterday made no direct reference to the health experts’ letter, which also highlighted the decades-long collaboration between WHO and the International Olympic Committee. The experts called it an “overly close” relationship that left the UN health agency unable to be impartial in Olympic matters. The IOC rejected the idea that the two organisations were too close, saying it “does not currently have an MoU (memorandum of understanding) with the World Health Organisation.”