Zika no longer an international public health emergency, but sustained response needed, says WHO


GENEVA, Switzerland — Following a meeting of its emergency committee on zika, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said that the infectious disease and its associated consequences no longer present a public health emergency of international concern, but stressed the need for sustained effort to address the disease, which has been linked to congenital and other neurological disorders.

According to a news release issued on Friday by the UN health agency, many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research.

The Emergency Committee also recommended that this should be escalated into a sustained programme of work with dedicated resources to address the long-term nature of the disease and its associated consequences.

WHO first declared zika an international public health emergency in February. Since it was detected in Brazil late last year, the virus has spread through the Americas and the Caribbean to other regions, including Africa, Oceania, and Asia. Zika can cause microcephaly, a rare birth defect that could lead to serious developmental problems, and has also been linked to other severe fetal brain abnormalities.

The agency has also linked zika to Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.

The declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) by WHO had led the world to an urgent and coordinated response, providing the understanding that zika virus infection and associated consequences constitute a highly significant long-term problem that must be managed by WHO, states parties and other partners in a way that other infectious disease threats are managed.

Friday’s Emergency Committee meeting was also updated on the latest developments on zika virus geographic spread, natural history, epidemiology, microcephaly and other neonatal complications associated with zika virus, GBS as well as current knowledge on sexual transmission of the virus.

Also on Friday, the committee reviewed and agreed to the WHO zika transition plan outlined to establish the longer-term response mechanism that delivers the strategic objectives already identified in the zika strategic response plan, noted WHO.

Photo: The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation Magalhães Research Center in Pernambuco, Brazil, performs tests to diagnose the presence of zika virus in blood samples of pregnant women with rash and itching. Photo: WHO/PAHO