Zika may be declared global emergency
THE World Health Organisation's (WHO) emergency committee might declare today the Zika virus outbreak, which is suspected of causing a surge in serious birth defects in South America, a global health emergency.
A closed-door meeting was held yesterday by the committee to debate whether to make the declaration, reported Agence France-Presse.
The meeting, called by WHO chief Margaret Chan, was conducted in the form of a telephone conference between senior WHO officials, representatives of affected countries and experts from around the globe.
WHO, a United Nations agency, warned last week that the mosquito-borne Zika virus was "spreading explosively" in the Americas, with the region expected to see up to four million cases this year.
The virus is believed to be linked to a surge in cases, particularly in Brazil, of microcephaly, a devastating condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain.
While it has yet to be definitely proven that the microcephaly cases are caused in some way by the Zika virus, Ms Chan warned last week that the causal relationship was "strongly suspected".
Jitters over Zika have spread far beyond the affected areas to Europe and North America, where dozens of people returning from vacation or business abroad have shown symptoms of infection.
"If a Public Health Emergency of International Concern were declared, WHO would provide detailed guidance for states, mobilise resources, and provide technical assistance," Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Public Health Law and Human Rights, told India's The Hindu daily.
"It would place the epidemic within the framework of binding international law.
"It will inject major urgency into research to develop therapies and vaccines," Professor Gostin added.
WHO has so far refrained from issuing travel warnings related to Zika, stressing that the most effective forms of prevention are getting rid of stagnant water where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes easily breed, and personal protection against mosquito bites such as using bug repellant and sleeping under mosquito nets.