WHO starts special meeting on Zika virus amid rising concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has begun a crisis meeting considering whether the explosive spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is linked to birth defects in the Americas, should be declared a global health emergency.
The closed-door teleconference meeting of experts is considering whether international efforts to fight the outbreak should be immediately ramped up, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said. The UN health agency last declared an emergency over the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. A similar declaration was made for polio the year before.
"This meeting will mainly look at whether there is reason to call a public health emergency of international concern, so we are looking at the existing evidence, and we are looking at the gaps we have, so we are looking at what we know and what we don't know," Lindmeier said.
Such emergency declarations are meant as an international SOS signal and usually trigger increased money and efforts to stop the outbreak, as well as prompting research into possible treatments and vaccines.
Last Thursday, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said that the level of alarm was "extremely high" despite the lack of proof that Zika is responsible for the spike in the number of babies born in Brazil with abnormally small heads. WHO officials say it could be six to nine months before science proves or disproves any connection.