Medical experts want Rio Olympics delayed or moved due to Zika

Sat May 28, 2016 5:08am EDT
 
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LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 100 medical experts, academia and scientists on Friday have called for the Rio Olympic Games to be postponed or moved because of fears that the event could speed up the spread of the Zika virus around the world.

Their assessment counters the view of some leading experts of infectious disease who say that as long as the necessary precautions are taken there is no reason to cancel the Games. On Thursday, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declared there was no public health reason to cancel or delay this summer's Games.

In a public letter posted online, the group of 150 leading public health experts, many of them bioethicists, said the risk of infection from the Zika virus is too high. The letter was sent to Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, and urged that the Games, due to be held in Rio de Janeiro in August, be moved to another location or delayed.

"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," the letter said. It can be found at rioolympicslater.org/

Bioethicists study ethical problems arising from biological or medical research. Professor Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine and one of four who authored the letter, said he is skeptical Brazil has the resources to protect the public and is equally skeptical of "general assurances" from public health officials.

The letter called on the WHO to convene an independent group to advise it and the International Olympic Committee.

"I believe in informed consent," Caplan said in an interview. "Let's have an independent set of scientists look at this and let everyone hear the arguments."

Citing the "greater concern for global health", the letter also said, "The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before."

Speaking at a lunch at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, Frieden said there was no reason to delay the Olympics.   Continued...

 
Material to prevent Zika infection by mosquitoes are displayed at the 69th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse