A Canadian public health expert wants to delay or move the 2016 Olympics in Brazil because of the Zika threat.
“But for the games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half million visitors into Brazil right now?” wrote University of Ottawa Professor Amir Attaran for the Harvard Public Health Review. He is a biologist and lawyer who researches health issues.
Zika, which is spread by mosquitos, has been linked to birth defects, including babies born with much smaller heads than normal and other neurological, or brain, problems.
Opening ceremonies for the Olympics are set for August 5 in Rio de Janeiro and the games are slated to run through August 21. Brazil is expecting 500,000 visitors for the Olympics.
“Rio de Janeiro is more affected by Zika than anyone expected,” making earlier reports about safety concerns outdated, Attaran said.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) rejected Attaran’s call to delay or move the games. It said it is working with the World Health Organization and others to limit risks.
One way it plans to do this, the IOC said Thursday, is to eliminate collections of standing water near Olympic sites where mosquitos reproduce. It also said the Olympics will be held during Brazil’s winter, when the mosquito population drops.
“There is no justification for cancelling, delaying, postponing or moving the Rio Games,'' said Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical director.
Attaran said the IOC cannot protect Olympic visitors from getting the Zika virus. He agreed the mosquito population likely will drop in August, but said the Zika threat won’t end.
The cost to Brazil of losing the games would be large – given that it budgeted $13 billion for the games. The country also faces a recession, corruption scandals, and the trial of its president, Dilma Rousseff.
But those concerns don’t come close to the “public health issues with the Zika virus,” Attaran told VOA.
“My wife is Brazilian, my children are Brazilian, and I’m an athlete myself,” said Attaran, a cyclist. “But I think that the concern can’t be over-sentimentality. It has to be about preventing more children from being born brain-damaged and all the suffering for them and their families.”
The World Health Organization, or WHO, Thursday issued a statement on the Zika virus, which it says has spread to 58 nations.
It did not call for moving the Olympics from Brazil. But the statement said it continues to urge pregnant women to avoid areas with “ongoing Zika virus transmission.”
“This includes Rio de Janeiro,” the WHO statement said.
For those who attend the games, as spectators or athletes, the WHO urged people take these steps to protect themselves:
1. During the day, use insect repellents and wear light-colored clothing that covers as much of the body as possible.
2. Practice "safe sex” by using condoms.
3. Avoid sex for at least four weeks after returning home if you or your partner have any symptoms of Zika.
The WHO also said people visiting the Olympics should “choose air-conditioned places” to stay, and avoid visiting poor and crowded areas in cities and towns without running water and poor sanitation.
That might be tough for Olympic visitors, Attaran said. The WHO’s description of places to avoid applies to a large area of Rio de Janeiro, he said.
Concerns about the Brazil Olympics are also coming from some athletes.
U.S. women’s soccer team goalie Hope Solo said she decided to attend the Olympics after earlier saying the Zika virus might keep her away.
But Solo told CNBC television that she doesn’t plan to spend much time outdoors. "I'm not sure I'm even going to be leaving the hotel room, outside of practice," Solo said.
Rivaldo played football for Brazil’s national team from 1993-2003. He wrote on Instagram and Facebook this week that his country is “becoming more and more ugly.”
He wrote about Brazil’s political problems, the recent murder in San Paulo of a 17-year-old girl, and “the state of public hospitals” in Brazil.
He suggested people should avoid visiting Brazil.
I'm Bruce Alpert.
Words in This Story
recommend – v. to suggest that someone do something
mosquito – n. a small flying insect that bites the skin of people and animals and sucks their blood
neurological – n. the scientific study of the nervous system and the diseases that affect it
justification -- n. an acceptable reason to do or not do something
athlete – n. a person who is trained or good at sports
cyclist – n. someone who rides a bicycle
sentimentality – adv. showing too much feeling or emotion
air-conditioned – adj. using a machine that cools a room
sanitation – n. the process of keeping places free from dirt, infection, disease, etc., by removing waste, trash and garbage, by cleaning streets