Brazil should not host the Olympic Games, public health expert warns

Because Brazil is at the heart of the current Zika virus epidemic, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro should be postponed or moved to a new location, a leading expert in population health and global development argues. 

With the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro less than three months away, a Canadian professor has called for the Olympics to be postponed or moved because of the Zika outbreak, warning the influx of visitors to Brazil will result in the avoidable birth of malformed babies.

The Olympics draws hundreds of thousands of spectators from all over the world, writes Amir Attaran, which will only serve to create new routes for the disease to migrate to other countries.

In February, the World Health Organization declared the epidemic to be a global health emergency. While the disease is normally mosquito-borne, there is new evidence that it can also spread through sexual contact and from mother to fetus, causing a longer period of infectiousness and making it easier to spread when foreign nationals return to their home counties. T

Attaran is not the first public health official to call for the games to be postponed because of the Zika risk; New York-based academics Arthur Caplan and Lee Igel wrote in an article in Forbes in February that hosting the Olympics at a site teeming with the virus is “quite simply, irresponsible.”

The IOC and Brazilian organizers say the Zika threat will be mitigated because the games are taking place in the South American winter, reducing the mosquito population. But not everyone is convinced the Zika threat will subside entirely by August.

“Mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer,” he writes. “And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not — for it is impossible that Games will slow Zika down — the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too. Putting sentimentality aside, clearly the Rio 2016 Games must not proceed.”

No one knows for sure how or when Zika virus entered Brazil, but as mentioned above, experts suspect that an infected international visitor may have spread the virus to the country’s local mosquito population during either the World Cup, which took place in June and July, or the canoe races, held in August.

Finally, no one is asking to cancel the games. But is it at the end of the day sensible to run the risk of a global epidemic of, let's face it, brain-damaged babies, when that could be avoided by simply postponing the games or moving them elsewhere?

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