The World Health Organization has surprisingly immersed itself into the turmoil swirling around the 2016 Summer Olympics. Through its wavering involvement in recent months, it has stirred even greater controversy, and further anxiety within a cautious world watching the Rio Olympics drama unfold.
Dangerous Polluted Waterways
Last summer, the WHO was first swept into this Summer Games chaos as it rushed to respond to Associated Press reports that revealed painfully dangerous levels of bacterial and viral pathogens that polluted waterways – where over a thousand athletes are expected to compete in August.
At the time, several Rio Olympics test events were held in the polluted Guanabara Bay and Rodrigo de Frietas lagoon. Numerous athletes fell sick soon after competing, due to exposure from the water laden with waste and sewage contaminants. The Rio Olympics Organizing Committee promptly proclaimed the water to be safe in that Brazil tests only for water-borne bacteria, and not the more serious virus contaminants.
As reported by the Associated Press on August 1, the WHO “advised the International Olympic Committee to widen the scientific base of indicators to include viruses. The Rio Local Organizing Committee and the IOC are requested to follow WHO recommendations on treatment of household and hospital waste.”
Just two months later, the back-pedaling WHO released a startling, reversal statement on October 16 that relieved Rio de Janeiro of any additional responsibility. “The WHO does not currently recommend testing of viruses for routine monitoring because of a lack of standardized methods and difficulty interpreting results.” Through a statement issued on its website, the WHO further recommended that only “a regular and ongoing program of microbial water-quality testing” for bacteria be performed.”
Scary Zika Virus Epidemic
Late last year, the Brazil Health Ministry reported over 1.5 million Zika virus infections and causally linked these to over 4000 cases of the debilitating microcephaly disorder in newborns. In December, media stories about the alarming Zika epidemic in Brazil began to surface.
An anxious world eagerly awaited the international health organization to take action. Over a month later, the WHO belatedly declared on February 2 that the Zika virus is a “public health emergency of international concern” – in response to these alarming Brazil statistics eminating from the epicenter of this health disaster.
In turn, the Brazil government issued an unprecedented warning to women contemplating pregnancy or who are pregnant to not travel to the Rio Olympics. “The risk, which I would say is serious, is for pregnant women. It is clearly not advisable for you (to travel to the Games) because you don’t want to take that risk,” said President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of staff, Jaques Wagner.
Still, in a strange twist, just yesterday the WHO’s executive director for outbreaks and health emergencies sought to downplay worries about traveling to “ground zero” Brazil for the Summer Games. At a Friday news conference, Dr. Bruce Aylward steadfastly said that by August this mosquito-borne virus will be “way down” and that it will have likely “gone through” a huge swath across Brazil – thereby serving to immunize millions of nationals.
It is no wonder that the 500,000 expected Olympic visitors, as well as many world-class athletes are revisiting their plans for the Summer Games in August.
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