By Sola Ogundipe
ALTHOUGH the Zika virus is still spreading, the World Health Organization (WHO) says it is no longer considered to be an international public health emergency. The global health body has declared that the crisis has entered a new phase that requires a longer-term response mechanism and sustained resources.
An Emergency Committee of the WHO which met weekend, said although the mosquito-borne virus is still a chronic problem and huge resources are required to fight its spread in a long-term manner, it no longer represents an emergency defined under the International Health Regulations (IHR).
According to the WHO Committee, Zika remains “a significant enduring public-health challenge requiring intense action” that requires management as a long-term priority like other major on going epidemics.
Based on the Committee’s advice, the WHO Director-General declared the end of the emergency declared in February 2016 as a result of an urgent need for research and a coordinated public-health response to determine if Zika was responsible for numerous cases of birth defects in newborns in Brazil.
Zika, which has been reported in 69 countries since 2015, causes devastating birth defects, such as underdeveloped brains and misshapen heads in babies born to women who were infected while pregnant.
Research has demonstrated the link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly, and the Committee says a robust longer-term technical mechanism is now required to manage the global response.
WHO notes that many aspects of the disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research. The Committee recommends sustained programme of work with dedicated resources to address the long-term nature of the disease and its associated consequences.