Following outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil and other parts of the Americas, the World Health Organization has announced that it is convening an emergency meeting to try and find ways to bring an end to the transmission.
“The level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly, “Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said in Geneva in a briefing for member countries, per the Washington Post.
The WHO chief said that the situation today is dramatically different from what it was last year as a result of the multiplying number of cases and the severity of the symptoms.
Health officials have said that 23 countries are currently affected by mosquitoes that are spreading the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States currently has 31 confirmed cases of the disease in 11 states and the District of Columbia. All cases are however, are travel-related, according to CDC’s Lyle Petersen; a figure that is described as “increasing rapidly.” It is also being reported that the United States has 20 additional cases as a result of local transmission in U.S territories—19 in Puerto Rico and one in the U.S Virgin Islands.
However, in a separate briefing with reporters, United States officials said all states are now required to report Zika cases. This would lead to a sharp increase in reports of travel-related cases. Officials however, said that it is unlikely that the United States will have the same kind of widespread local outbreaks that are currently taking place in other countries of the Americas.
Officials have come under heavy criticism for not acting swiftly enough to call an emergency meeting on Zika. They accused the World Health Organization of failing to learn its lesson from the deadly Ebola virus that wrecked havoc in West Africa in 2014. The WHO’s failure to sensitize the world was heavily criticized by observers and various experts.
Brazil is the worst-affected among countries where the Zika virus has been reported, and public health officials are investigating the link between the virus and a rare brain defect called microcephaly in infants, as well as a nervous system syndrome known as Guillain-Barré that can lead to paralysis.
Countries like El Salvador and a few others in the Americas have been badly hit by reports, and have taken extreme measures by advising women to push forward plans of getting pregnant until 2018. The Washington Post quotes Bruce Aylward, the assistant director-general of the World Health Organization as saying that the position of the group is that women who are pregnant should engage in “an abundance of caution” to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
During a briefing to the WHO executive board on Thursday, Brazil’s health minister, Claudio Maierovitch, said the country is investigating 12 confirmed deaths of babies born with microcephaly for potential linkage with Zika virus infection.
In the past, outbreaks of the disease occurred mainly in areas with small populations, which is quite different from the situation in Brazil where the virus is spreading in densely populated areas.