Health experts: Postpone or move Olympics due to Zika

Health experts: Postpone or move Olympics due to Zika
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A group of 150 health experts and bioethicists is calling for the Olympics to be postponed or moved because of the risk from the Zika virus. 

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A range of professors from countries including the U.S. and Brazil signed the open letter to the World Health Organization, citing a risk to global health from continuing the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. 

“WHO’s declaration of Zika as a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern,’ coupled with new scientific findings that underscore the seriousness of that problem, call for the Rio 2016 Games to be postponed and/or moved to another location — but not cancelled — in the name of public health,” the group writes. 

The letter was led by professors at New York University, the University of Zurich and the University of Ottawa.

“Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before,” they write. “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.

“Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great,” the add. “It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.”

Olympics officials have said that they have no plans to postpone the games. 

"The clear statements from WHO that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade means there is no justification for cancelling, delaying, postponing or moving the Rio Games,'' Dr. Richard Budgett, chief medical officer for the Olympics, told the BBC earlier this month.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday at an event at the National Press Club that “there is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics.”

He said travel to the Olympics would make up "less than 1 percent" of all travel to South American countries affected by the Zika virus.

The health experts’ letter calls for the WHO to set up an independent group to advise it on Zika and the Olympics.