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Health professionals call for Olympics in Rio to be postponed due to Zika

150 doctors, scientists, and bioethicists have written a letter to the World Health Organization calling for the Rio Olympics to be postponed or moved

Rachel Axon for USA Today reports: the doctors express concerns about the further spread of the virus and developing information about it in calling for the Games to be delayed or moved. The letter writers questioned whether the WHO is rejecting alternatives of when and where the Games should be held because of a conflict of interest with the International Olympic Committee.

“Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games,” the letter assumes. “We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should “Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission.” If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.”

The primary concern is the fact that Olympics travelers might possibly acquire the Zika virus in Rio and then spread it to currently unaffected regions. “It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved,” the statement continues.

The WHO and IOC did not immediately comment on the issue.

Olympic organizers reported that they have been patrolling the venues for months, seeking to decrease the threat of infection and added that considering the timing, with the Games occurring during Rio’s winter, it would be likely to lessen the risk of the spread of the virus.

The letter asks the WHO to reconsider its advice on the Rio Olympics for several reasons, saying:

-- While individual risk is low, the risk to a population is “undeniably high.”

-- Rio de Janeiro is profoundly affected by Zika

-- Rio’s health system has been weakened, including by city funding cuts against mosquito-borne disease

-- Because the Aedes aegypti mosquito had previously been eradicated from Rio that holding the Olympics in the presence of these mosquitos “is a choice and not a necessity.”

 “WHO must revisit the question of Zika and postponing and/or moving the Games,” the letter concludes. “We recommend that WHO convenes an independent group to advise it and the IOC in a transparent, evidence-based process in which science, public health, and the spirit of the sport come first. Given the public health and ethical consequences, not doing so is irresponsible.”

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

EXPERT OPINION

Joshua Tartakovsky

That seems like a fair claim. In fact, even if WHO would not issue such a suggestion many tourists are unlikely to come due to fears of Zika contagion. Had Dilma remained the president, we could have at least expected the government authorities to function professionally (although the anti-terrorism act under her watch was a grave mistake as it was meant to ensure the games will pass peacefully but now is used against dissidents of the coup government). But in the new post-coup government over six ministers are under investigation for grave corruption and the new government officials may very well be busy enriching themselves as they sell off the country while neglecting to carry out their duties. Brazil is in very bad hands at the moment and it’s far from certain tourists are medically and personally safe. A recent gang rape case in Rio that was posted on social media only serves to exacerbate concerns on safety for tourists.

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