MS Risk Blog

Officials Call for Rio Games to be Postponed Amidst Zika Fears

Posted on in 2016 Summer Olympics - Security Update title_rule

One-hundred-and-fifty-two health experts have signed a letter calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to either halt the upcoming Olympic games in Brazil or move it elsewhere.

The letter warns that some 500,000 foreign tourists are expected to travel to Rio de Janeiro, which would lead to the virus being spread to countries where it may not have reached.   It further states that the Zika virus has more serious medical consequences than first through and claims that the health emergency contains “many uncertainties.” One of the authors of the letter, Professor Amir Attaran, has stated that the games risk becoming the “Olympics of brain damage.” He believes that allowing the Olympics to go ahead would lead to the birth of more brain damaged children.

The letter also calls into question the relationship between the UN health agency and the IOC, which entered an official partnership in 2010. Professor Attaran states that the partnership between the WHO and the IOC was “beyond the pale” and calls the independence of the WHO into questions. He states that “it is ignorant and arrogant for the WHO to march hand-in-hand with the IOC,” adding, “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.”

The WHO however has rejected the call, stating that suspending or moving the event would “not significantly alter” the spread of the virus. A statement released by the WHO indicates that “based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” adding, “Brazil is one of almost 60 countries and territories which to-date reporting continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes…People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons…The best way to reduce the risk of disease is to follow public health travel advise.”

The Zika virus has been linked to serious birth defects including microcephaly-where babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. It has also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, which affect the nervous system. Nearly 1,300 babies have been born in Brazil with microphaly since the mosquito-borne Zika began circulating last year. The majority of those infected with the virus have no symptoms, however it can cause mild illness with symptoms that include rashes, fever and headaches. Pregnant women have already been advised not to travel to Rio de Janeiro, however the WHO has indicated that the risk of Zika will lessen in August because it is winter in Brazil.

While no Olympic Games has been moved because of health concerns, in 2003, FIFA moved the Women’s World Cup from China over fears of the respiratory virus SARS.

The Rio games are due to begin on 5 August.

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