An expert panel convened by the World Health Organization just declared that there is no scientific basis for canceling, postponing or moving the 28th Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August or the Paralympics in September because of the Zika outbreak. While many of us experts have expressed concerns about how the WHO handled Ebola and other outbreaks, this time the WHO got it right.
There are ample reasons for alarm: The Zika virus continues to spread in Brazil. Zika infection during pregnancy can have devastating effects on developing fetuses, leading to severe brain damage. The risk is so substantial that the WHO has called the Zika outbreak and its effects on pregnant women a public health emergency of international concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pregnant women to avoid traveling to Zika-affected areas if possible.
No wonder, then, that more than 200 medical ethicists and other experts penned an open letter to the WHO, calling for the Olympics to be moved or delayed. They contend that approximately 500,000 people flying into Rio to participate in or watch the Olympic Games would accelerate the spread of the disease as these individuals returned home, leading to a worldwide Zika outbreak.
These arguments seem compelling on the surface, but they don’t stand up to scrutiny.