Rio, we have a problem.
Just 69 days before the kick-off of the 2016 Summer Olympics, leading health experts say the ongoing Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is so dangerous, the games should be moved or at least postponed.
“Currently, many athletes, delegations and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the 2016 Rio Games,” a group of 150 prominent scientists, doctors and medical ethicists wrote in an open letter on Friday. “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 letter, directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, warns that the Rio Olympics could become ground zero for a global crisis. Scientists worry about the possibility of travelers getting infected with Zika while in Rio, which they then will spread to their native countries. Over a half million international visitors are estimated to be attending the games.
“Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly,” the group said, adding that the Rio’s mosquito-killing programs have been ineffective.
The disease has been found to cause birth defects in pregnant women and has also been linked to an immunological reaction called Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The group also slammed the WHO for having too cozy a relationship with the International Olympic Committee, calling previous statements by WHO officials “troubling.”
“To prejudge that ‘there’s not going to be a lot of problems,’ before reviewing this evidence [on Zika virus effects] is extremely inappropriate of WHO, and suggests that a change in leadership may be required to restore WHO’s credibility,” the group wrote.
The WHO and the International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.