The World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected a call from 150 health experts to consider postponing or moving the Rio Summer Olympics due to the Zika virus.
The Zika outbreak in South America has pretty much reached pandemic levels, and the WHO has even declared a state of emergency following the outbreak. Thousands of babies have been born with drastic abnormalities such as microcephaly and Guillain–Barré syndrome as a result of the disease and we still don’t understand exactly how this happens.
Dr. Yoel Sadovsky, a Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh said:
“We know very little about how Zika virus infection occurs during pregnancy and how it causes birth defects. However, what we do know from other viral infections during pregnancy is that there are several steps that are needed for viruses to affect the fetus. The first is to get into the mother’s body and then to infect or cross the placenta. At that point, the virus can enter a specific fetal compartment such as neurons which could potentially lead to a defect such as microcephaly. Alternatively the virus can remain in the placenta and may affect development of the fetus by disrupting placental function.”
To make things even worse, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world will travel to Brazil, additional to the 10,000 athletes who will compete in the Olympics. This poses a huge risk and a huge threat not only to everyone who will travel to the Olympics, but to everyone who will be in contact with them.
In an open letter to the WHO director-general, 150 experts in fields from public health to bioethics and pediatrics from two dozen countries have urged for the Rio games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.” The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, the number of cases has gone up rather than down.
However, the WHO rejected this idea.
“Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.” Their reply argued this won’t make a significant chance and that “people continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons.”
They did, however, reiterate their plea to pregnant women to avoid traveling in Zika-infested countries, but the researchers who wrote the letter weren’t pleased.
“The WHO’s response is absolutely fanciful,” said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the letter’s authors. He called WHO’s argument that Zika is already being transmitted by mosquitoes in up to 60 countries “a scientific half-truth.”
“They’re avoiding the question of `Is it Brazilian Zika in other countries?”‘ he said.
In the meantime, the end to the Zika epidemic is not in sight and the risk posed by the Olympics remains unclear.