The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the rise in birth defects linked to the Zika virus outbreak a “public health emergency”, underscoring the seriousness of the problem and paving the way for research and aid to be fast-tracked to tackle the infection.
WHO said the emergency is warranted because of how fast the mosquito-borne virus is spreading and its suspected link to an alarming spike in babies born with abnormally small heads – a condition called microcephaly – in Brazil and French Polynesia.
On top of that, reports of Guillame-Barre Syndrome, a serious neurological condition that can lead to paralysis, have also risen in areas where the virus has been reported.
According to BBC, experts are worried that the virus is spreading far and fast, with devastating consequences. There have been over 4,000 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil alone since October 2015.
Closer to home, The Star Online reported that Malaysia is vulnerable to the Zika virus too. The report cited Deputy Health Director-General Datuk Dr Lokman Halim Sulaiman as saying that the Ministry was monitoring the spread of the virus and believed that the disease could spread to Malaysia because of the high presence of Aedes mosquitoes in the country.
Dr Lokman added that the risks brought by the disease were also high as Malaysians had yet to develop an immunity to the virus, making it likely that the disease could spread very quickly among Malaysians.
The WHO alert puts Zika in the same category of concern as Ebola.
This is the 4th time the WHO has declared a public health emergency. WHO declared 2 emergencies in 2014: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and a resurgence of polio in Syria and other countries. The H1N1 swine flu pandemic prompted an emergency in 2009.
More information on the Zika virus here.