The World Health Organization has rejected appeals to postpone or cancel the 2016 Olympics Games over the Zika virus. The games, which are scheduled to take place from August 5th to 21st are supposed to be held in the Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil is considered the main epicenter Zika – one of the greatest public health emergencies to have emerged since the Ebola outbreak of 2014. As such, Rio is considered a Zika virus at-risk area.
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The WHO’s statement was in reaction to a letter written by 150 medical experts on May 28th, 2016. In the letter, the experts asked the UN body to advocate for the cancellation or moving of the Rio Olympics.
The experts said that the Olympics could end up spurring a worldwide Zika outbreak. This is because as fans from different countries converge in Rio, they could contract the virus, and then spread it into their countries when they return. This, they argued, would end up endangering not just athletes and fans, but people who will not have been to the Olympics.
The warning came amidst speculation that some teams were reconsidering participating in Rio over the Zika virus. Over the last few months, it has emerged that Team USA and Kenya are reconsidering Rio participation.
The WHO, however, has declared that fears of a global Zika virus pandemic arising from the Rio Olympics are unfounded. In a statement released on May 29th, the WHO said that canceling or moving the 2016 Olympics from Rio “will not significantly alter” Zika’s spread.
The implication of this is that no public health justification exists for cancelling or moving the Olympics. However, the WHO promised to continue monitoring the progress of the Zika virus and will update its advice should the need arise.
Whether or not these assurances calm people’s nerves waits to be seen. The organizers of the Rio Olympics have long reiterated that all Olympic-related venues will be free from the mosquitos which carry the Zika virus. As such, whoever travels for Rio 2016 will be 100% safe.
These claims have so far done little to calm people’s fears. Whether the WHO speaking out will calm those nerves is yet to be seen.