Scientists: Move or Postpone Olympics Due to Zika

A group of 150 scientists, researchers, and academics have written an appeal for organizers to either move the Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro or delay them, citing the ongoing Zika virus public health emergency.

The letter reads in part:

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed or moved, but cancelled. Other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola. FIFA moved the 2003 Women’s World Cup from China to the USA because of the SARS epidemic, based on the advice from university-based experts, as many of us are.

The letter proceeds to express concern that tourists from around the world will carry the virus back home with them to countries not yet exposed to the epidemic. Poor countries in particular concern the letter’s signatories, who argue that the Olympics pose an unnecessary risk that may lead to outbreaks in regions ill-equipped to cope with the mysterious virus.

Amir Attaran – a professor at the University of Ottawa and prominent signatory of the letter – informed The Guardian of his pessimistic post-olympics forecast, remarking that the “odds are extremely high that somebody will take the disease elsewhere and seed a new outbreak.”

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement downplaying the  Olympics’ role in spreading the Zika virus update, stating that “canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” adding that Brazil is simply one of nearly 60 countries which have reported cases.

The WHO reaffirms that tourists should simply follow the world health body’s travel advice, which essentially amounts to wearing mosquito repellant and practicing safe-sex.

Purportedly, the International Olympic Committee has not consulted with the WHO regarding the organization’s dismissal of scientists’ fears, though the governing body of the Olympics has long maintained that there is no possibility of moving the games, the multi-billion dollar budget for which grows every week.

There is likely intense resistance to calls for a delay or cancellation from interests that have contributed to the immense sum of money invested in the games.

Zika virus has been proven to cause microcephaly in new-born infants, which causes malformed heads and debilitating and/or lethal brain damage. Additionally, there may be some links between the virus and deleterious side-effects in adults, including a possible correlation between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death.

The United States Olympic Committee has told athletes and staff that they should skip the Rio games if they are concerned about Zika, Reuters reports.

The Tap will bring you further coverage as the Olympics approach concerning Zika virus and other ongoing events, including the political strife and economic turmoil currently ravishing the host country Brazil.

A Global Response to Zika Virus Begins

(Mosquitos: the chief culprits in the rapid spread of the Zika virus)

On February 1, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. The announcement came in response to an extraordinary increase in birth defects in Brazil. During 2015, thousands of infants were born with microcephaly – a disorder that causes fetuses to develop abnormally small heads. Though researchers have not been able to conclusively make the connection, the leading hypothesis holds that the Zika virus is likely responsible for the uptick of this rare birth defect.

WHO Director Margaret Chan declared the pattern in Brazil “an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world.”

The crisis certainly has global dimensions. First discovered in the 1940s in Africa, the virus only made its way to Latin America last May, where it has since rapidly spread to 23 nations. Florida Governor Rick Scott has announced a state of emergency after as many as 12 cases emerged in the state. A pregnant woman in Spain recently became the first European Zika virus case. Specialists believe that up to 1.5 million Brazilians alone may have contracted it.

The issuing of the global health emergency will trigger funding for prevention and mosquito eradication – efforts to contain the spread of the virus, which takes its biggest toll on new borns. Women in many affected areas who have contracted the virus, however, are stuck in a difficult position. Many of the countries hit with the outbreak have strict anti-abortion laws in place, meaning that affected pregnant women may have to bring children to term who have severe, debilitating brain-damage. Microcephaly cannot be detected in fetuses until late in the second-trimester, further complicating the situation of Zika-stricken pregnant women residing in nations with restrictive stances on reproduction issues.

While nations like Brazil are reconsidering strict anti-abortion laws in light of the Zika virus outbreak, others are holding fast to their onerous legal codes. El Salvador – where abortion is illegal – has officially suggested that women simply refrain from getting pregnant until 2018.

Authorities have sought to dispel concerns that the virus poses a risk during the upcoming Olympic games, scheduled to be held in Brazil this summer. Government officials cited the relatively cool month of August and rigorous mosquito eradication efforts underway as reasons why visitors for the games will be safe from contracting the virus. Drawing a link between the Zika virus and international sporting events, however, some specialists have speculated that the virus could have been introduced into the country during the 2014 World Cup. So far, no upsurge in ticket returns has occurred in response to recent events.

Key Elements Group LLC will continue covering the global response to the Zika virus as programs get underway and fundraising initiatives begin in support of affected communities.

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