Zika outbreak a global health emergency: WHO
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that the recent outbreak and spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus constitute a "public health emergency of international concern" and called on the global community to join forces to contain it.
The WHO emergency committee, which made the announcement on Monday following a meeting, is worried that the virus is spreading fast of late and that this might lead to a global disaster, the China News Service reported.
Calling the virus a global health emergency is necessary as it may be linked to the recent surge in microcephaly cases in South America, in which babies are born with abnormal heads and brains, said the committee.
WHO chief Margaret Chan said on Monday that the committee, made up of health experts, had agreed that "a causal relationship between the Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not scientifically proven", the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
While the link is not absolutely certain now, the recent outbreak of Zika infections in Brazil has alarmingly been followed by a jump in babies born microcephalic.
Data show that since October, there have been some 270 confirmed cases of microcephalic newborns in Brazil compared with only 150 in 2014.
According to British epidemiologist David Heymann, who chaired WHO's meeting, Zika alone would not be a public health emergency of international concern.
The urgent need is to scientifically establish whether the clusters of microcephaly and Guillain Barre - a serious nerve disorder syndrome - found in South America are caused by Zika, AFP quoted Mr Heymann as saying.
He acknowledged that "it will take time".
In the meantime, Ms Chan said the world could not put off coordinating measures to protect against the spread of Zika, in the affected region and beyond.
WHO on Monday stressed the need to improve diagnostics and develop a vaccine for Zika - for which there is no treatment.
Ms Chan said efforts to ward off Zika infections - including getting rid of stagnant water where mosquitos easily breed, and using personal protection against mosquito bites such as using repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets - could not wait.
But WHO refrained from issuing travel warnings, with Ms Chan hinting that pregnant women might want to avoid travel to Zika-affected areas, if possible. AGENCIES