Earlier this month, WHO declared that the Zika virus, which has been linked to cases of babies being born with microcephaly, is no longer an “international emergency”.
So that is a good thing, right?
Well, not exactly according to some. Just because this has been declared no longer an international emergency by the World Health Organization does not mean to say that it does not still pose a risk.
The most recent outbreak of Zika in Brazil began in 2014 and has spread to over 40 countries worldwide.
It is transmitted in two ways, by a mosquito bite and by sexual transmission from an infected person.
The instances of transmission through sexual contact have been documented in nine countries since this outbreak began – Argentina, Chile, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal and the USA.
Also, during this outbreak, it has been shown to cause microcephaly. Also, when it is present in adults it can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome.
At the moment, there is no vaccine for Zika and a successful development of one is still some way off. So why has this been declared no longer an international emergency?
Worldwide there have been some 2300 babies born with microcephaly and Brazil has been the worst affected. If there is no cure and a vaccine is still in development, some feel that it is a bad idea to take away the ‘international emergency’ status from the disease.
Lawrence Gostin is a health law expert from Georgetown University.
“I think WHO’s decision is unwise …Although Zika’s spread has waned, it still holds the potential for an explosive epidemic. If it were to re-emerge in the Americas or jump to another part of the world, it would significantly threaten a new generation of children born with disabilities such as microcephaly”.
Although WHO are quick to assure people that they are in no way downgrading or not taking the virus seriously, there are some who feel that the withdrawal of the status of ‘international emergency’ will lead to a decrease in the amount of funding needed for research.
At the conference held where the decision was made, Dr. Salama the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme reassured the world that the organization was;
“Not downgrading the importance of Zika”
And he added that;
“We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and WHO’s response is here to stay in a very robust manner.”
The advice about the Zika virus remains the same; that pregnant women are not advised to travel to the affected areas. Also, anyone who is in an affected area should desist from having unprotected sex for six months.
Some of the measures that have been employed in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease have proved controversial.
Oxitec are the company behind the plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes that will mean any offspring do not reach adulthood. It is hoped that this will self limit the mosquito population which are responsible for the Zika virus and the continuing outbreak.
However, not everyone is happy about the prospect of genetically modified mosquitoes flying about close to them – and environmentalists are concerned too.
Zika may no longer make the headlines and be deemed an international emergency, but unfortunately, it seems as if it is here for the duration. Until the vaccines that are being trialled come to fruition the advice will be the same as before, to cover up, use recommended repellent and avoid affected areas if pregnant or planning a pregnancy.