The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that Zika no longer constitutes an international emergency – warning at the same time that the virus will continue to spread where mosquitoes carrying it are present.
Zika, which is linked to birth defects and neurological complications, has been found in 60 countries since the outbreak was identified last year in Brazil.
The global body says there is still a public health threat.
“We’re dealing with long term issues here. We’re dealing with management of neurological complications in children and in adults. We’re dealing with family planning issues, we’re dealing with health system issues, we’re dealing with maternal reproductive health issues and we’re dealing with a long and comprehensive research and development agenda that needs to be multi-year,” said Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
The WHO insists Zika’s importance is not being downgraded. The health “emergency” category compels countries to report outbreaks under international law. Because the goals on awareness of the dangers have been met, the change in its status is seen as justified.
It remains in a class with other diseases such as dengue that pose serious risks and require ongoing research.
But some experts have warned that losing the international emergency label could slow research.
Recommendations on taking preventative measures to avoid sexual transmission remain in place.
The WHO says there have been some 2,300 confirmed cases worldwide of babies born with microcephaly, most in Brazil, but believes the figure is most likely an under-estimate.