Corporate Wealth Trumps Public Health
Posted by feww on May 28, 2016
Submitted by a reader
WHO rejects call for Rio Olympic Games to be moved or postponed, despite outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil
The World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected a call for the Rio Olympic Games to be moved or postponed despite the threat posed by the outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil.
WHO public health advice regarding the Olympics and Zika virus: News Release
Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus. Brazil is 1 of almost 60 countries and territories which to date report continuing transmission of Zika by mosquitoes. People continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons. The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice.
Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games,” the WHO said in a statement.
The statement is in response to a letter signed by a group of at least 152 doctors, researchers, and health professionals to the United Nations health agency calling for the Rio Olympics to be postponed or moved because of concerns of the spread of the Zika virus.
“Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before,” states the letter, signed by experts in the United States, India, Canada, Britain, Australia, Norway, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan and Brazil, among others.
“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,” it said.
“Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great.”
“… the Brazilian viral strain causes microcephaly and probably Guillain-Barré syndrome. Further, because human, animal and in vitro studies demonstrate that the virus is neurotrophic and causes cell death, it is biologically plausible that there are other as yet undiscovered neurological injuries, as exist for similar viruses (e.g. dengue). [… ] That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases,9 and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation)10, which is above the historical level of microcephaly. […] Rio de Janeiro is highly affected by Zika. Brazil’s government reports Rio de Janeiro state has the second-highest number of probable Zika cases in the country (32,000)… and the fourth-highest incidence rate (195 per 100,000), demonstrating active transmission. […] despite Rio’s new mosquito-killing program, the transmission of mosquito-borne disease has gone up rather than down. While Zika is a new epidemic and lacks historical data, using dengue fever as a proxy, cases in Rio from January thru April 2016 are up 320% and 1150% over the same periods in 2015 and 2014, respectively.”
“It is indisputable that option (a) of holding the Games as scheduled has a greater risk of accelerating the spread of the Brazilian viral strain than the alternatives. Postponing and/or moving the Games also mitigates other risks brought on by historic turbulence in Brazil’s economy, governance, and society at large—which are not isolated problems, but context that makes the Zika problem all but impossible to solve with the Games fast approaching.”
The Letter questions whether the UN health agency can give a non-biased view of the situation because of its “secret” high – level partnership with the International Olympic Committee.
WHO and IOC in Partnership
WHO has a decades – long, high – level partnership with the International Olympic Committee. That partnership was last affirmed in 2010 at an event where the Director General of WHO and President of the IOC signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which is secret because neither has disclosed it.
Inappropriately, WHO sees its role as not just providing public health advice. It established a “Virtual Interdisciplinary Advisory Group”, whose “ important promotional point,” according to WHO is “that the Group can help in bidding for major events (like the Olympic Games)”. That is a clear conflict of interest, when WHO must also evaluate and make recommendations about Olympic travel during a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
The overly close relationship between WHO and the IOC is apparent in the comments of WHO’s Executive Director responsible for Zika, just days after it was declared a PHIEC:
“Brazil is going to have a fantastic Olympics and it’s going to be a successful Olympics and the world is going to go there. I just wish I was going there, but there’s not going to be a lot of problems there by then. ”
With respect, this is a troubling statement. WHO cannot credibly assess the public health risks of Zika and the Olympics when it sets neutrality aside. Declaring that “it’s going to be a successful Olympics and the world is going to be there” implies that WHO has given the Olympics an unconditional green light, without regard to rapidly emerging medical, entomological, and epidemiological evidence — all of which must be considered in assessing whether this mass gathering could accelerate the global spread of the Brazilian strain of Zika virus. To prejudge that “there’s not going to be a lot of problems” before reviewing this evidence is extremely inappropriate of WHO, and suggests that a change in leadership may be required to restore WHO’s credibility.