For nine months, the World Health Organization treated the Zika virus as an international medical emergency, as is was linked to significant birth defects like microcephaly in over 30 countries. The virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, but it has also been reported to be sexually transmitted. Deaths are rare, but 20 percent of people infected by the virus develop symptoms including rash, fever, and joint pain.
The head of a WHO emergency committee, Dr. David Heymann, continued to describe the virus as a “significant and enduring” threat. However, the WHO will transition to a more long-term approach against the epidemic, which has expanded to Latin America and the Caribbean. The declaration signaling the end of an emergency state, however, prompted concern by some public health experts. They worry that this declaration may slow down the international response and create the false perception that people are safe.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested that the announcement was premature. He questions, “If they pull back on the emergency, they’d better be able to reinstate it. Why not wait a couple of months to see what happens?”
Moreover, Dr. Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University expressed that while the virus is not lethal nor deforming newborn babies at the rate anticipated, “the international response has been lethargic” and “WHO’s action to call off the global emergency has provided reason for governments and donors to pull back even more.”
- Linda Shin