“The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven," said Dr Margaret Chan.
The World Health Organization on Monday declared the Zika Virus which is linked to birth defects, a global public health emergency despite the fact that the allegations have not been proved yet.
This move will generate funding for research to establish whether the virus which is transmitted by mosquitoes is responsible for microcephaly (babies born with small heads and a vast majority of underdeveloped brains).
“In assessing the level of threat, the 18 experts and advisers looked in particular at the strong association, in time and place, between infection with the Zika virus and a rise in detected cases of congenital malformations and neurological complications,” Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO said during a news conference in Geneva.
“The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven. All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better,” Dr Chan added.
The virus which has spread to over 20 countries in Latin America was first detected in Uganda’s Zika Forest in 1947 among monkeys during a Yellow Fever test by experts.
This is the fourth time that the international organization has declared a disease a "public health emergency of international concern,” since H1N1 pandemic in 2009, recurrence of Polio in May 2014 and the Ebola menace in August 2014 as well.
The disease which the WHO has described as spreading "explosively" through the Americas has mild symptoms including skin rash and headache. Further the WHO estimates that by the end of the year, the virus will have infected up to 4 million people and have reached most of the hemisphere.
The 18-member committee agreed that the situation meets the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern even with the “cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders.” They said the situation calls for a coordinated international response to minimize the threat in affected countries and reduce the risk of further international spread.
“A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy” Chan said.
Further, the Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of Zika virus.
They called for protective measures to control mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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