Monday, February 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Margaret Chan, convened an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee in Geneva to determine whether the Zika outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Ultimately, it was decided that it does.
The Emergency Committee (made up of 18 experts and advisors) met via teleconference to assess the threat level and observed increases in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations caused by the Zika virus. They agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suggested. Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain.
It was determined that there is an urgent need to coordinate international efforts to better understand this relationship. Chan stated that, “A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.”
The WHO defines a PHEIC as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” Since the International Health Regulations were enacted in 2007, the WHO has only declared a PHEIC three other times: during 2009’s H1N1 swine flu outbreak, in May 2014 when polio cases began reappearing and in August 2014 during the Ebola pandemic in West Africa.
While the WHO rarely declares this type of emergency, due to the recent surge of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, this situation constitutes an “extraordinary event” and a public health threat to other parts of the world.
Despite this, the Emergency Committee still has not put any restrictions on travel or trade. Currently, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites – especially to pregnant women.
For more information regarding the Zika virus, read our initial blog post. Check back regularly for updates on the situation. We encourage our clients and customers to contact us 24/7 using the numbers provided in their program materials or via our website form if you are in need of assistance or have inquiries.