The entire world is now trained on Brazil, ground zero for the Zika virus epidemic, and its hosting of the annual Carnival festival next week and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. For the last year, Brazilian health officials have been focused on combatting this aggressively spreading mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to birth defects and long-term neurological problems.
Yet, only in the last month, have major, respected international health organizations been publicly advising about this growing epidemic – one expected to course through the Americas and beyond this year. Hundreds of millions of residents and travelers are in suspense, as these organizations shift from a reactive stance, to a proactive attack.
In this bulls-eye is the protective World Health Organization who is just now publicly stepping-up. Based in part on dire warnings from U.S. scientists published on Thursday, the WHO has shifted to an emergency mode.
It is now scrambling to not only catch-up, but also to keep at least one step ahead of this health disaster. On Thursday, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan declared that a crisis meeting will be held on Monday to determine whether this pandemic should be classified as an international emergency, with the virus acknowledged to be “spreading explosively, and the level of alarm is extremely high.”
The developing country of Brazil has been overwhelmed in 2015 in fighting the Zika virus. Over 1.5 million documented cases of virus infections were recorded, and then reported to worldwide health organizations such as the WHO. And likely, hundreds of thousands more have been infected but, their exposures were not detected due to minimal if any symptoms experienced.
So, this widespread outbreak alone should have been sufficient witness, in itself, to the gravity and size of this health calamity in the making.
Further, the Brazil government reported a marked increase in microcephaly cases in newborns last fall. Microcephaly is a devastating medical condition that causes the brain and skull to be underdeveloped. Many children suffer from mental and physical handicaps, or even face an early death.
In the United States, our national health organizations have only recently taken notice – as evidenced by mere publicized statements, notices, and blogs. On New Year’s Eve, the respected U.S. Centers for Disease Control initially issued an advisory “watch level” press release for travelers to Brazil and a few other countries. Only on Tuesday has the organization ratcheted upwards the seriousness of this virus by issuing an “alert level” notice.
Further, the partnering U.S. National Institutes of Health is also broadcasting its own acknowledgement. Augmenting stale and outdated information on its web site about miocrocephaly, the staff is resorting to informally blogging about this potential crisis facing America.
Subscribe below to all my current events and Olympics articles in the run-up to the Rio Olympics.