Next to Donald Trump and figuring out which bathroom to use, it’s been easily one of the most talked about subjects on news channels everywhere – the Zika virus. This superbug has caused outright panic throughout the world and has put the spotlight heavily on the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro. Many fear that the travel in and out of Brazil will allow the virus to spread even more quickly, putting millions in danger. Recently, over a hundred doctors have spoken out against holding the Olympic games in Rio, citing in a letter directed at WHO Director-General Margaret Cho that, “Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before.” Many are still unfamiliar with the Zika virus, and this recent objection marks just another chapter in this ongoing saga.
The Who – Ironically, the who, is in fact WHO (World Health Organization). They have the biggest voice when it comes to influencing the cancellation or postponement of the games, but surprisingly, they’ve remained relatively quiet since the discovery of the virus. In response to the letter, the WHO stated, “Canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also chimed in by saying, “There is no public health reason to cancel or delay the Olympics.”
The What – So what exactly is the Zika virus and what makes it so dangerous? Carried by mosquitos, this virus is especially dangerous to pregnant women and can be transmitted through sex or pregnancy. It can cause a variety of birth defects including abnormally small heads in infants and can even cause paralysis in some cases. Currently, there are no available vaccines, reinforcing the danger of this particular virus.
The Where – Originating in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus has only recently become prevalent again within the last year. It has recently spread to the Americas, with Central and South America becoming hotbeds for the virus. Many of these areas have issued travel warnings as an effort to slow down the dispersion of the virus. With Rio de Janeiro as a hotspot for the virus, many are baffled at the inaction regarding the Olympic games.
The When – So far the U.S. has reported over 600 cases of the Zika virus, which is dwarfed by the thousands of cases that have been reported in South America. A timeline released by the CDC shows that the virus is rapidly spreading across the Americas.
The Why – The refusal of the Olympic Committee and WHO to acknowledge this serious issue has many wondering what is so important about the upcoming games. The short answer, like all vices, is money. The 2016 Summer games have the potential to generate millions of dollars in revenue for Rio, and a cancellation would leave many Rio citizens footing the bill for the many new structures built specifically for the games. Also, a drop in tourism could have a heavy impact on revenue generated by the city. The Olympic committee also benefits heavily from a successful, bringing in a share of the revenue as well. It’s no surprise that they’ve given athletes the grim ultimatum of “come at your own risk” or “miss out on the event you’ve dedicated your life to.” Either way, the 2016 Summer Olympics will most likely still happen, and it will be up to fans and participants to attend the event at their own risk.