WHO: Microcephaly-Causing Zika Virus No Longer a World Health Emergency
In an official agency advisory, the World Health Organization said on Friday, Nov. 18, that Zika virus, which is believed to have caused the rise in microcephaly and other notable defects in infants in Brazil, is no longer a global health emergency.
Although emphasizing that the crisis is not yet over, the WHO says it will not identify Zika virus an emergency, or a Health Emergency of International Concern, but rather as an ongoing threat like other known mosquito-related illness, such as malaria or yellow fever.
In an article by the New York Times, Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program said, "We are not downgrading the importance of Zika. We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the WHO response is here to stay."
On other hand, experts pursuing the birth defect-causing pandemic expressed dismay and concern that the WHO's declaration might impede the support from international organizations and mislead people living in at-risk environments that they are no longer in danger.
According to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, immunologist and director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding efforts to find a Zika vaccine, WHO's emergency lift is rather premature and untimely as summer is only about to start in the Southern hemisphere, which indicates a possibility of resurgence of Zika virus cases in countries like Brazil and Colombia. For his part, Dr. Fauci says his agency would continue its vaccine efforts for the Zika virus despite WHO's statement.
In February, WHO declared a state of emergency for Zika virus following the spread of the infection across almost every country in the Western Hemisphere, save for Canada. Babies by the thousands suffered physical deformities due to the infection.
Last September, President Barack Obama approved a $1.1 billion for the fight against Zika virus, $400 million of which dedicated solely to the development of a vaccine and diagnostic tests.