Despite the fact that it continues to spread throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and regions of southeast Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that it no longer views the spread of the Zika virus as a public health emergency of international concern.
Rather, the public health division of the United Stations is reclassifying the ailment, particularly its effect on pregnant women and unborn children, as a chronic problem which will not be going away anytime in the near future, according to NPR and NBC News reports.
Despite appearances, WHO officials denied that changing the status indicates that they view Zika as less of a threat than before. Rather, they insist that they needed to move the virus to a different level because of funding-related reasons and other bureaucratic issues, the media outlets said.
“It is really important that we communicate this very clearly: We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,” Dr. Peter Salama, the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, told NPR. “In fact, by placing this as a longer term program of work, we’re sending the message that Zika is here to stay. And WHO’s response is here to stay, in a robust manner.”
“There was no downgrading at all of this,” Dr. David Heymann, chairman of the organization’s emergency committee on Zika virus, added during a telephone briefing with NBC News. “[We] agreed that Zika must be managed within the [WHO] as are other important infectious diseases. The committee felt that what is best now is a very robust technical response to the virus.”
Still much work to be done to combat the disease, say experts
The WHO originally declared Zika a public health emergency in February, during a time when Brazilian health officials were investigating roughly 4,000 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect associated with the virus that causes babies to be born with smaller-than-normal heads and brain damage. At the time, NPR said, officials were predicting several thousand additional cases.
Things have not been as bad as initially feared. In the months that followed, Brazil reported more than 2,000 additional Zika infections, but far fewer cases were reported elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Colombia (57) had the second highest number of reported infections globally, while the US (31) in third, according to WHO statistics released on Thursday and cited by NPR.
However, Columbia is also reportedly investigating some 300 cases of microcephaly to whether or not there is a link to Zika, and some countries, including Haiti and Venezuela, have “not been vigilant” about reporting cases, the news organization added. Furthermore, some countries likely will not even experience their first cases until next year, as the disease requires nine months after the onset of an outbreak for the majority of microcephaly cases to appear.
That has led some experts, such as Georgetown University’s Lawrence Gostin, to question the WHO’s decision. During an interview with Reuters, Gostin called the reclassification of the Zika virus “unwise” and warning that it might discourage some countries from investing the resources needed to prepare for the disease. “Although Zika’s spread has waned, it still holds the potential for an explosive epidemic,” he added. “If it were to reemerge in the Americas or jump to another part of the world, it would significantly threaten a new generation of children.”
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) agreed that issuing public health emergency declarations helps direct global attention to a disease like Zika, and that the WHO’s mandate had accomplished that goal. However, he added that there was still a lot of work to be done to combat the disease, including the development of a vaccine. The new status “doesn’t change that fact,” Dr. Adalja told Reuters.
Image credit: Thinkstock
The post WHO claims Zika is no longer a ‘public health emergency’ appeared first on Redorbit.
offers Science, Space, Technology, Health news, videos, images and reference information. For the latest science news, space news, technology news, health news visit redOrbit.com frequently. Learn something new every day.”