Zika No Longer A World Public Health Emergency, Claims WHO: Outraged, Brazil Says Chances Of Epidemic Still High

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that the Zika virus is no longer a public health emergency of international concern. However, Brazil, the epicentre of the outbreak, has refused to downgrade the risk, noting that the chances of an epidemic are still dangerously high.

The WHO receded on Friday the global health emergency it had sounded about the Zika virus earlier this year. Interestingly, instead of jubilation, many public health experts battling the epidemic have openly expressed their reservation about the decision.

Incidentally, the WHO has merely noted that the state of emergency no longer exists, reported Times of India. However, the threat of the virus still exists. The decision was taken by an agency advisory committee called Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The members categorically noted that they never considered the Zika crisis to be over and done with, said Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program,

“We are not downgrading the importance of Zika. We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the W.H.O. response is here to stay.”

The committee noted that Zika is now one of the dangerous mosquito-borne diseases like malaria or yellow fever. Hence, the threat of the virus should be considered as perpetual and ongoing that has to be countered just like other diseases. Similar to all mosquito-borne diseases, Zika could become a threat depending on the season and time of the year. In other words, Zika has become a seasonal threat, and may repeatedly rear its head in regions that are considered fertile breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry it, cautioned Dr. Salama.

Incidentally, the developing nations are still considered very vulnerable to Zika outbreak, and they can declare regional emergencies, noted Dr. David L. Heymann, chair of the advisory committee,

“The Zika virus remains a highly significant and long term problem, but it is not any more a public health emergency of international concern”

It is these nations that are concerned about the decision taken by the WHO. They strongly feel the international response to the crisis would start waning post the announcement. Developed countries that had been pouring help to such at-risk nations might be lulled into thinking the Zika threat has been permanently averted.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding efforts to find a Zika vaccine, insisted that the decision to lift the state of emergency is quite premature, especially since the summer season is just beginning in the Southern hemisphere. The nations below the equator are at huge risk, he added.

“Are we going to see a resurgence in Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere? If they pull back on the emergency, they’d better be able to reinstate it. Why not wait a couple of months to see what happens?”

The WHO had declared Zika a global health emergency in February due to the simultaneous spread of the virus and “extraordinary clusters” of microcephaly among babies born in areas where the virus was spreading, reported CNN. Many claim the agency sounded the alarm bells only after the virus threatened Americas, and now that the virus is in control in the region, the agency has lifted state of emergency, even when the virus continues to remain a credible threat elsewhere.

At the onset of the virus attack, doctors weren’t aware that Zika caused neurological birth defect in newborns. However, once the link between abnormal skulls of babies and Zika was established, there were extraordinary efforts made in the form of research, funding, and international coordination to find out more about Zika.

Experts insist that Zika virus epidemic has merely slowed down because mosquito season has ended in quite a few northern areas of the world. They caution the onset of summers could easily cause its resurgence.

[Featured Image by Orlando Sierra/Getty Images]