The World Health Organisation has declared that the clusters of brain-damaged babies born in Brazil – linked to but not proven to be caused by the Zika virus – constitute a public health emergency of international concern.
The declaration, made by the WHO director Margaret Chan, will trigger funding for research to try to establish whether the Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes, is responsible for the large numbers of babies born with abnormally small heads in Brazil. It will also put resources behind a massive effort to prevent pregnant women becoming infected and, through mosquito control, stop the virus spreading.
Chan called the birth of thousands of babies with microcephaly “an extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world”. She was speaking following a meeting of the WHO’s international health regulations emergency committee, summoned to advise the director general on whether to make the declaration, which calls in international resources and expertise.
“Members of the committee agreed that the situation meets the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern. I have accepted this advice,” she said. Read more