The World Health Organisation has declared that the Zika virus which is responsible for the birth of brain-damaged babies born in Brazil, constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
The declaration was made by the WHO director Margaret Chan and it will trigger funding for research to try to determine whether the Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes, is responsible for the large numbers of babies born with underdeveloped brains and dedicate resources to prevent pregnant women from becoming infected, and control the virus from spreading by reducing to amount of mosquitoes.
“Members of the committee agreed that the situation meets the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern. I have accepted this advice,” Chan said.
“It is important to realise that when the evidence first becomes available of such a serious condition like microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities, we need to take action, including precautionary measures,” she said.
Chan has however called for countries to refrain from imposing any sort of travel restrictions on those Latin American countries where the Zika virus is spreading as the virus is not transmittable by person to person contact although precaution should be taken to prevent the mosquitoes from entering into other countries.
Prof David Heymann, chair of the emergency committee, clarified that the Zika virus is not a serious issue as it kills off , it is the mocrophany it causes to newborn babies that is the issue.
Meanwhile Brazil has dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops on mosquito-eradication campaigns in the worst affected areas, but the government is struggling to comprehend let alone cope with the epidemic. While reported cases have spiked since the virus was first identified in the country last year, officials admit their estimate of 1.5m cases is based on guesswork.
In an effort to get a clearer picture, the authorities have instructed local health authorities to report on all cases from next week, when most states should have the equipment and personnel to carry out Zica tests. It will ban people who have the virus from donating blood.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, acknowledged at the weekend that the country was losing the battle. “We do not have a vaccine for Zika yet. The only thing we can do is fight the mosquito,” she told reporters during a visit to the emergency headquarters of the anti-Zika campaign. “As long as [the mosquitoes] are reproducing, we are all losing the battle. We have to mobilise to win it”.