Rare Disease Report

More Researchers Concerned About Holding the Olympics in Brazil

JUNE 02, 2016
James Radke, PhD
Last month, we wrote about the 5 reasons why the Rio Olympics should be moved or postponed, according to Amir Attaran, DPhil, LLB, MS, Associate Professor of Law and Population Heath at the University of Ottawa. Soon after Dr Attaran's list became popular, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated the Olympics Games will be safe given that the games will be held in a low mosquito season and that facilities will be sprayed for bugs throughout. Furthermore, all athletes will be given bug spray, long sleeve shirts and 6 month supply of condoms to keep the virus from infecting them.

RIo Olympics Later

Dr Attaran is not satisfied with the CDC and WHO's response. He is fighting back. And this time, he is bringing some of his friends. 

An open letter written by Prof. Amir Attaran (University of Ottawa), Prof. Arthur Caplan (New York University, USA) Dr. Christopher Gaffney (University of Zürich), and Prof. Lee Igel (New York University, USA), and signed by over 200 clinicians/researchers was sent to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO.

The letter urges Dr Chan to move or postpone the Olympic Games.
The 4 professors list the  2 types of risks that they feel are reason to postpone/move the Olympics.
First, the personal risk in hosting the games in Rio de Janeiro. The professors point out that the CDC recommends that workers should “Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission”. They go on to state that “If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.”

Second, the global risk. This is of bigger concern to the writers. They state that the Brazilian strain of Zika virus is harmful to humans in ways that we have not seen before and allowing 500,000 global visitors to go to Brazil, contact the virus and return it to their home and infect that country could create a pandemic problem.
The letter points out several other factors that make it unsafe to hold the games in Rio de Janeiro, namely that: (i) Brazil’s Zika virus strain has more serious medical consequences than previously known, (ii) Rio de Janeiro is one of the most affected parts of Brazil, and (iii) Rio’s mosquito-killing efforts are not meeting expectations, but rather mosquito-borne disease is up this year.
The letter ends with an indictment against WHO and the Olympic Committee who they feel are too close to consider an alternative to hosting the games in Brazil. The letter notes “We are concerned that WHO is rejecting these alternatives because of a conflict of interest. Specifically, WHO entered into an official partnership with the International Olympic Committee, in a Memorandum of Understanding that remains secret. There is no good reason for WHO not to disclose this Memorandum of Understanding, as is standard practice for conflicts of interest. Not doing so casts doubt on WHO’s neutrality, for reasons described further in the Appendix.”
“WHO must revisit the question of Zika and postponing and/or moving the Games. Similar to what FIFA did for SARS and the Women’s World Cup, we recommend that WHO convene an independent group to advise it and the IOC in a transparent, evidence-based process in which science, public health, and the spirit of sport come first. Given the public health and ethical consequences, not doing so is irresponsible.”
To read the letter in its entirety and to see if you want to sign it as well, go to www.rioolympicslater.org/

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