World Health Organization(WHO) which is a specialized agency of the United Nations and is concerned with international public health, declared on Monday, Zika virus and conditions linked with it, a global health emergency.
An outbreak of Zika virus occurred in Brazil last year and has since spread to twenty more countries with Costa Rica and Jamaica being the newest.
Experts are worried that the virus is spreading far and fast, with devastating consequences.
The infection has been linked to cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains.
The WHO alert puts Zika in the same category of concern as Ebola.
There have been around 4000 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil alone since last October.
WHO director general, Margaret Chan called Zika an “extraordinary event” that needed a co-ordinated response.
“I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities reported in Latin America following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014 constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.”
At a news conference in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan, she acknowledged that the understanding of the connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly was hazy and said that the uncertainty placed “a heavy burden” on pregnant women and their families throughout the Americas. She said the emergency designation would allow the health agency to coordinate the many efforts to get desperately needed answers. Officials said research on the effects of Zika in pregnant women was underway in at least three countries: Brazil, Colombia and El Salvador.
“The evidence is growing and it’s getting strong,” Dr. Chan said. “So I accepted, even on microcephaly alone, that it is sufficient to call an emergency. We need a coordinated international response.”
Some health experts are of the view that the ban is more of political nature than due to health precautions. Brazil is to host World Olympics this year and any ban on travel affect the games dangerously.
“I think there was a political overtone,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “If it were my daughter and she was pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, I would absolutely warn her off of going to a Zika-affected country, and the W.H.O. should have said that.”
The sudden outbreak has taken the world by surprise. The virus had been identified in Uganda in 1947 but has since lived in monkeys alone, but since May last year, many cases of conditions linked to the virus have been isolated.
Of what is known of the nature of the virus as yet is that it is spread by mosquitoes so general public is advised to protect themselves from mosquitoes. There is no treatment or vaccine for the virus yet which makes it all the more dangerous.