Thursday 21 February 2019

Move Olympics due to Zika crisis in Rio - health experts

Brazilian health workers spray insecticide to combat Zika mosquitoes in Rio de Janeiro Photo: AP
Brazilian health workers spray insecticide to combat Zika mosquitoes in Rio de Janeiro Photo: AP

Joe Nerssessia

This summer's Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be moved or postponed because of the ongoing Zika virus, according to more than 150 global health experts.

In an open letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the experts, including a former White House adviser, called into question the two organisations' close relationship and asked for the games to be moved to another location or postponed "in the name of public health".

The letter says that the Zika virus has more serious medical consequences than previously known and that the emergency contains "many uncertainties".

One co-author said that if this year's games go ahead they risk becoming "the Olympics of brain damage".

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 experts, many of whom have worked with the WHO, also voiced concerns over the relationship between the UN's health agency and the IOC, who they said entered an official partnership in 2010.

A co-author of the letter, professor Amir Attaran, called the partnership "beyond the pale" and called into question the independence of the WHO.

He said: "It is ignorant and arrogant for the WHO to march hand-in-hand with the IOC. How can it be ethical to increase the risk of spreading the virus?

"Just because a fire has begun doesn't mean you need to pour gasoline on it."

Professor Attaran added that allowing the Olympics to go ahead would lead to the birth of more brain-damaged children.

The majority of those infected with Zika will have no symptoms, but it can cause a mild illness with symptoms including a rash, fever and headache.

Serious complications are not common, but experts have said that for pregnant women, the virus can cause microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads due to the fact their brains have not developed properly.

Irish Independent

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