Zika virus will not stop Rio Olympics

WHO an­swers plea to move or de­lay Games

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - @7DAYSUAE By 7DAYS News Team

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.”

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