Opinion: Olympics Should Nix Rio To Reduce Risk Of Zika Spreading To Africa

Written by Dana Sanchez

From BusinessStandard. Story by AFP.

The World Health Organisation has ruled out any change in timing or location of the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, shunning a call by doctors and scientists to move the event over the Zika virus.

An open letter addressed to the world health body signed by 150 international doctors, scientists and researchers yesterday called for the August Games to be moved or delayed to help prevent the spread of Zika virus.

Holding the Games in Rio, the second worst affected city in Brazil, would be “irresponsible” and “unethical” and could risk spreading the virus to “poor, as-yet unaffected places” like Africa and South Asia, the letter said.

Zika can cause birth defects including a devastating syndrome known as microcephaly. Babies are born with unusually small heads and brains. The virus can be introduced to a new region when a local mosquito picks it up from an infected human and passes the virus on to more humans in a vicious cycle.

But the WHO said moving the Olympics would not have a major impact on the spread of Zika.

“Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” it said.

Nearly 1,300 babies have been born in Brazil with irreversible brain damage since the mosquito-borne Zika began to spread there last year.

The virus can also cause adult-onset neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death.

“An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic,” said experts from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Norway, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Lebanon, among others.

“Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (for example most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great,” it added.

The WHO and top U.S. public health officials have called on those traveling to Brazil to take precautions against mosquito bites, and have said pregnant women should avoid areas where Zika is circulating, including Rio.

The Olympics and Paralympics, set for Aug. 5 through Sept. 18, “will take place during Brazil’s winter time when there are fewer active mosquitoes and the risk of being bitten is lower,” the organisation said this month.

On Thursday, the top U.S. public health official, Tom Frieden, said “there is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympic Games”.

Olympics should nix Rio

But the open letter, signed by doctors and researchers at leading universities around the world, expressed worry that officials are not adequately protecting the public against the danger posed by Zika. “It is unethical to run the risk, just for games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.”

Read more at BusinessStandard.