28 May 2016

Move or postpone Rio games over Zika - experts

11:33 am on 28 May 2016

The Olympic Games in Brazil should moved or postponed because of the threat from the Zika virus, more than 150 international medical experts say.

The Olympic Games in Brazil should moved or postponed because of the threat from Zika, 150 international medical experts say.

The games posed an "unnecessary risk" that the influx tourist to Rio could carry Zika back to their home countries. Photo: AFP

The group has published an open letter urging the World Health Organisation (WHO) to revisit its guidance on Zika, and said new findings about the virus make it "unethical" for the games to go ahead.

The games in Rio de Janeiro are due to start in August

They said Zika - which is linked to serious birth defects - poses a clear risk to global public health.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in May it saw no reason to delay or move the games due to Zika.

The outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease began in Brazil a year ago, but now more than 60 countries and territories have continuing transmission.

While Zika's symptoms are mild, in the letter the experts said it can cause babies to be born with abnormally small heads and may also cause a rare and sometimes fatal neurological syndrome in adults.

The letter is signed by 150 international scientists, doctors and medical ethicists from such institutions as Oxford University and Harvard and Yale universities in the United States.

They cite the failure of a mosquito-eradication programme in Brazil, and the country's "weakened" health system as reasons to postpone or move the Olympics in "the name of public health".

"An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic," the letter said.

zika mosquito

Zika can be spread by mosquitos, as well as through sexual transmission. Photo: 123RF

The biggest risk was if athletes contracted the virus and returned home to poor countries that had not yet suffered a Zika outbreak, the group said.

They also express concern the WHO has a conflict of interest through its partnership with the IOC.

The WHO, which has declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency, is yet to comment on the letter.

A physiotherapist in Brazil holds a baby suffering from microcephalia.

A physiotherapist in Brazil holds a baby suffering from microcephalia, a condition linked with the Zika virus. Photo: AFP

Several public health experts had previously warned that having hundreds of thousands of people arriving in Rio will speed up Zika's spread and lead to the births of brain-damaged babies.

But on Thursday, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose advice is quoted approvingly in the letter, said the threat did not warrant halting the games.

"There is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics," Dr Tom Frieden said.

However, he urged the US to act more quickly to prevent pregnant women contracting Zika, amid congressional deadlock over the release of $US1.9b in funding.

-BBC