Citing concerns regarding the Zika virus outbreak, medical experts at NYU Langone are demanding that the 2016 Rio Olympic Games be postponed or rescheduled by the Brazilian Government.
The virus was declared a public health emergency for the Western world by the World Health Organization, who affirmed the Zika epidemic can potentially infect as many as four million people by the end of this year. The virus’s outbreak in Brazil was confirmed in April 2015 and is spread among humans through infected mosquito bites, sexual transmission and blood transfusions.
The effects of the virus have been most devastating for pregnant women, whose babies are likely to experience a condition known as microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with underdeveloped heads. Doctors first became aware of the disease, which is usually asymptomatic when a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, when cases of microcephaly spiked in Brazil.
With no treatment or vaccine on the imminent horizon, Director of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Arthur Caplan says holding the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the middle of the Zika outbreak would be irresponsible.
“It represents big trouble for Olympic athletes, coaches, workers at the games, the media horde that will cover them and the million of spectators the Brazilian Government hopes to attract,” Caplan wrote in a Forbes article published last week.
Other members of the NYU faculty including environmental studies professor Astrid Cerny agreed with Caplan and Igel in their stance that the games should be postponed.
“Olympic games generate a tremendous increase in arrivals and departures and mingling of people who otherwise don’t have contact,” Cerny said. “From a medical perspective, it amounts to bringing large numbers of uninfected people into the epicenter of the disease outbreak, before many, then unknowing, become transmission agents to new cities and countries when they return home.”
Taking into consideration the tremendous investment made by the Brazilian government toward Olympics infrastructure, NYU medical experts insist that running the games in the middle of a public health emergency will only push the country into further crisis.
However, the Brazilian government and the International Olympic Committee insist the virus threat will have cleared by the time the games come along this summer. Both entities have confirmed the games will be taking place and have announced a number of precautionary measures are being taken to keep Olympic venues safe and minimize the risk for visitors.
Tisch associate professor of sports and society Lee H. Igel called on the IOC to either cancel or move the games in face of threat that represents a real danger to humanity in the Forbes article co-authored with Caplan.
“A sports mega-event like the Olympic Games puts further stress and strain on the economic, political, and social issues, including what is happening with infrastructure and health care system, that Brazil is dealing with already,” Igel said in the article. “Add to that a serious virus outbreak and questions really have to be asked about where to put resources.”
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