WHO declares end of Zika public health emergency

The disease is still a public challenge, however, and the organization said it remains dedicated to responding to the virus.
By Jessica Davis
10:57 AM

The Zika virus is no longer classified as a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization said November 18.

The virus was instead reclassified as a "long-term epidemic," comparable to other mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. WHO stressed that the disease still remains a public challenge and requires a long-term focus to address its effects: birth defects, neurological complications and others.

The virus, which has been found in 60 different countries, will continue to spread in locales with mosquitos that carry the virus, officials said.

"Many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research," WHO said in a statement. "The emergency committee recommended this should be escalated into a sustained program of work with dedicated resources to address the long-term nature of the disease and its associated consequences."

[Also: HRSA antes up $39 million to help combat Zika virus]

WHO declared the virus a global emergency in February, compelling countries to report any outbreaks. In a press call Friday, David Heymann, MD chair of the Zika Emergency Committee said the emergency status was designed to contain Zika's spread and to boost research funding.

Since the immediate needs have been met and research has proven the connection between Zika and microcephaly, the best response is technical and requires work within WHO, Heymann said. But the disease is still a viable threat, especially in countries in the southern hemisphere such as Brazil.

"We're not downgrading the importance of Zika," said Peter Salama, MD, executive director of WHO's health emergencies program said during the conference. "We're sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the WHO response is here to stay."

"Countries need to be prepared and strengthen detection and prevention, as well as care and support for people," WHO said on Twitter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advise pregnant women to avoid traveling to countries with infected regions. On Monday, CDC added Montserrat to the list of these countries with travel warnings.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com

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