By Adeyola Opaluwah
The World Health Organisation has declared that the clusters of brain-damaged babies born in Brazil linked to Zika virus, now constitute a public health emergency of international concern.
This is was the outcome of the meeting of its Emergency Committee (EC) convened by the Director-General under the International Health Regulations held on Monday.
“I am now declaring that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” Margaret Chan, WHO DG said.
According to Chan, who was criticised for being too slow in making a similar declaration when the Ebola virus ravaged parts of West Africa, this declaraction is expected to trigger a coordinated international response, needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.
Though the Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus, it however advises that risk communications should be enhanced in countries with Zika virus transmission to address population concerns, enhance community engagement, improve reporting, and ensure application of vector control and personal protective measures.
It further added that travellers to areas with Zika virus transmission should be provided with up to date advice on potential risks and appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of exposure to mosquito bites while standard WHO recommendations regarding disinsection of aircraft and airports should be implemented.
At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.