WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, declared the recent increase in microcephaly cases and neurological complications possibly linked to Zika virus infection as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
The decision was weighed by a panel of 18 experts and advisers during an emergency meeting under the International Health Regulations. The Emergency Committee decided that the unusual increase in microcephaly and other neurological disorders recently reported in Brazil and French Polynesia in 2014 constitutes an “extraordinary event and a public health threat to other parts of the world,” Chan wrote in a statement.
“The experts agreed that a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven,” the statement said.
The committee expressed concern over the recent patterns of Zika virus transmission as well as the lack of resources and population immunity in countries with recent transmission. In response, Chan called for a coordinated international response to enhance surveillance of new infections, congenital malformations and neurological complications, and to accelerate the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines.
No travel or trade restrictions were placed to prevent further spread of the virus.
“At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women,” Chan wrote in the statement.