W.H.O. declares Zika virus global emergency

Feb 01, 2016, 3:35 PM EST
Source: Calgary Reviews/flickr
Source: Calgary Reviews/flickr

The World Health Organization has officially declared the Zika virus to be a global health emergency -- the first time the organization has done so with any virus since Ebola. W.H.O. has designated Zika a health emergency of international concern, aiming to raise more alarm and instigate funding for fighting the mosquito-borne pathogen. Zika is associated with brain defects in newborns. The Washington Post reports:

The WHO has estimated that the virus will reach most of the hemisphere and infect up to 4 million people by year's end.
Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said at a press briefing that the primary reason for the decision was that members of an 18-member advisory panel agree that a causal relationship between Zika and microcephaly is "strongly suspected" although it hasn't been scientifically proven. She said that given the seriousness of the conditions being reported, the consequences of waiting were too great.
The official “emergency” designation can trigger action and funding from governments and non-profits around the world. It elevates the W.H.O. to the position of global coordinator, and gives its decisions the force of international law. The agency is trying to cast itself as a global leader to revive its reputation after a faltering response during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
“Can you imagine if we do not do all this work now and wait until all these scientific evidence to come out, people will say why didn’t you take action?” Dr. Chan said.
President Obama spoke to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Friday about the ways that the countries can work together to address the growing issue.
"The leaders agreed on the importance of collaborative efforts to deepen our knowledge, advance research, and accelerate work to develop better vaccines and other technologies to control the virus," the White House press office said in a statement Friday. "The leaders agreed to continue to prioritize building national, regional, and global capacity to combat infectious disease threats more broadly."