WHO: No public health reason to postpone or move Rio Olympics over Zika


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rejected calls to move or postpone this year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro due to concerns over the spread of the Zika virus.

An open letter to WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan, signed by more than 100 health experts, urged the global body to "reconsider its advice" on the Games following new scientific findings regarding the mosquito-borne virus, which is linked to serious birth defects.

The letter stated: "An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain [of the Zika virus], and return home to places where it can become endemic."

However, a statement in response from the WHO read: "Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games. 

"Brazil is one of almost 60 countries and territories which to-date report continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes. People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons.

"The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice. WHO will continue to monitor the situation and update our advice as necessary."

The WHO statement also cited a recent assessment from Dr Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"There is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics," said Frieden in a press briefing on Thursday.

"The risk to delegations going and to athletes is not zero. The risk of any travel isn't zero. But the risk isn't particularly high, other than for pregnant women. And some have said, well so much travel to the Olympics - that may spread the disease. We've looked at this. Travel to the Olympics would represent less than one quarter of one per cent of all travel to Zika-affected areas.

"Even if you were to say the Olympics weren't to happen, you would still be left with 99.75 per cent of the risk of Zika continuing to spread."