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Canadian professor joins calls to postpone Olympics because of ZIKV in Brazil

Published:Friday | May 13, 2016 | 5:50 PM
In this January 2016 photo, health workers stand in the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil spraying insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus.

LONDON (AP) — 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 that the influx of visitors to Brazil will result in the avoidable birth of malformed babies.

"But for the games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now?" University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran, who specialises in public health, questioned in an article published this week in the Harvard Public Health Review.

Brazil is by far the country most affected by Zika, a mosquito-borne virus which has now been scientifically proven to cause a range of disturbing birth defects, including babies born with abnormally small heads and neurological problems.

In February, the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic to be a global health emergency.

The WHO says there are no restrictions on travel or trade with countries affected by Zika outbreaks but advises pregnant women not to travel to those regions.

Attaran's position is not shared by Olympic and global health authorities, who insist the August 5-21 games will not be derailed by the virus.

The International Olympic Committee, which follows the WHO's advice, said it has no plans to relocate or postpone the games.

"The clear statements from WHO that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade means there is no justification for cancelling or delaying or postponing or moving the Rio Games," Dr. Richard Budgett, the IOC's medical director, told The Associated Press.

The Zika outbreak is just one of the challenges facing Brazil in the build up to South America's first Olympics.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment, the economy is in deep recession and the country is gripped by a vast corruption scandal centred on state-controlled oil giant Petrobras.

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."