Despite increasing fears of the dangers of the Zika virus spreading to other continents, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have dismissed the pleas issued by several prominent scientists to move or postpone the 2016 Rio Olympics.
An open letter was sent to the WHO last week from nearly 150 prominent scientists, doctors and other activists asking them to seriously discuss postponing or shifting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games scheduled to happen in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is one of the severely affected countries by the Zika virus.
The tournament organisers have been targeted heavily by the letter sent to the WHO, accusing them of having not taken the threat of the Zika virus seriously enough and that the health of thousands of citizens will be put at risk if the tournament went ahead as per schedule. Brazil will not be the only country affected by the Zika virus since the Olympics is set to attract thousands of spectators from various countries around the world and so the risks of them contracting the virus and taking it with them back to their native countries are worryingly high.
The Zika virus is not known to show too many symptoms, but the effect is visible later on during childbirth, where there can be severe birth defects. The virus was first recognized about one year ago and it has since spread to a devastating 60 countries already. The number of babies affected are increasing. As of April 2016, almost 5000 babies have been found with Zika-related birth defects, most commonly born with unusually small heads.
The response to the letter by the WHO was a strong one, asserting that the spread of the Zika disease to other countries cannot be avoided and shifting the Rio Olympics is not the solution. They said that number of spectators expected to enter the country, which is estimated around 500,000, is just a small percentage of the millions that travel to and from Brazil every year. They said that the disease can be tackled best by making sure travellers and even the athletes adhere to the health plans specified and try and attempt to stop the mosquitoes from biting you.
Conflict of Interest
Furthermore, another important issue was brought up in the letter, about the relationship between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The organisations are understood to have agreed to a partnership between them. Hence, the WHO is being accused by many of having a conflict of interest in the issue and therefore, not being entirely neutral. The signatories have demanded that a team be made, which will assess the threat of the Zika virus and come to a decision on whether to go ahead with the Olympics.
The letter said, “We are concerned that WHO is rejecting these alternatives because of a conflict of interest. Specifically, WHO entered into an official partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in a Memorandum of Understanding that remains secret.”
The demands went on to say that the complete memo between the two be revealed, for proof that the WHO have the public’s best interests in mind. They asserted the seriousness of the issue and the effect it could have on public health, if appropriate measures aren’t taken on time.
There has been no occasion in the past when an Olympic Games has had to be moved because of health reasons. In football, FIFA did shift their 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the United States of America, due to the threat of the Sars disease. It may not be needed since another expert said that the Olympics will be taking place during Brazil’s winter season and hence, the probability of the Zika virus spreading goes down by a massive 20 to 40 times.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio is set to begin on August 5th and scheduled to continue until the 21st.