WHO Committee to Meet on Zika Virus

The World Health Organization will convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the alarming spike in Zika virus cases.

According to a Jan. 28 official statement, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan will convene an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the Zika virus and what she says is an "observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations."

The committee will meet on Monday, Feb. 1, in Geneva to determine whether the outbreak merits a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The term Public Health Emergency of International Concern is defined in the International Health Regulations of 2005 as "an extraordinary event which is determined, as provided in these Regulations: i. to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease; and ii. to potentially require a coordinated international response." According to WHO, this definition implies a situation that is serious, unusual, or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected state's national border; and may require immediate international action. The responsibility for determining whether an event qualifies lies with the WHO director-general and requires the convening of an IHR Emergency Committee.

Since the first case was reported in Brazil in May 2015, the disease has spread to 22 other countries and territories in the Americas. A causal relationship between the Zika virus and birth defects has not been established but is strongly suspected, according to WHO.

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