In the wake of the Zika pandemic in Brazil, 150 international doctors, scientists and researchers have signed an open letter for the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to be moved or delayed due to Zika virus. The letter argues that it would be ‘unethical’ and ‘irresponsible’ to press on the games in Rio, the second most affected city in Brazil.
“Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before,” said the letter, signed by experts in the US, Britain, Canada, Norway, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Lebanon, among others.
“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,” it said.
“Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (eg, most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great,” the letter added.
Zika virus can cause birth defects, a syndrome called microcephaly in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains. Due to this mosquito-borne virus, nearly 1300 babies have been born in Brazil with irreversible defect.
WHO and op US public health officials have already warned the people travelling to Brazil to take adequate precautions against the mosquito bites and asked pregnant women to avoid areas where Zika is circulating, including Rio.
The Olympics and Paralympics, set for August 5 through September 18, “will take place during Brazil's wintertime when there are fewer active mosquitoes and the risk of being bitten is lower,” WHO said this month.
The letter has also urged the WHO to ‘conduct a fresh, evidence-based assessment’ of the situation in Brazil and its recommendations for travellers.