Rio Olympics: A Reminder of the Need for Zika Funding

August 10, 2016Rachel Landman

With the Olympics having begun last week in Brazil, we are extra-aware of the threat of Zika. Brazil, a country that is a hotspot for mosquitos, and as a result Zika virus, we are reminded of the continued need for the United States to approve funding to combat Zika.

Primarily transmitted through mosquitos, Zika causes microcephaly, a serious birth defect resulting in a small head and underdeveloped brain. Because of seasonal changes and significant attempts to control the virus, the World Health Organization has said that hosting the Olympics in Brazil will not increase the international spread of Zika. Despite this recommendation, health experts and academics sent an open letter in May calling for the Olympics to be postponed or moved and a few athletes have decided not to attend. And, a number of factors, including fear of the spread of Zika, have lead tickets sales for Rio 2016 to lag behind those of previous Olympic Games.

There have been tens of thousands of suspected cases of Zika in Rio alone, but recent data shows that these cases in Brazil have decreased 87% since the peak in February. Therefore, medical authorities predict a very low risk of visitors and athletes who come to the Olympics, predicting only a few new cases in Rio. Although Brazil has dedicated resources to reinforcing their health network and control mechanisms for the spread of Zika, much of the decline in Zika cases can be attributed to the weather. It is now the middle of their winter season, when mosquito-borne illnesses are generally lower. Whether or not this virus will impact Olympic athletes and visitors in Rio, it is still a major crisis and that we must devote resources to fight it.

Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the first ever travel advisory over health conditions in the United States, as a result of Zika. The warning advises pregnant women and their partners should avoid the neighborhood and Miami, FL where mosquitos carry Zika are most prevalent. Fifteen people in Florida have been infected with Zika virus from local mosquitos, making them the first cases of Zika transmitted within the United States.

In Pirket Avot (2:21) we are taught, “It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it.” We might not be able to completely eliminate ZIka, but we must take action to try. President Obama has requested $1.9 billion from Congress to respond the spread of Zika. Currently, this funding is being held up in Congress, as a result of various unrelated provisions that have been added to the legislation, including restrictions on access to birth control and weaker environmental restrictions on pesticides. Hopefully, when Congress is back in session, they will be able to remove any unrelated provisions and quickly approve funding before the spread of Zika creates an even larger global health crisis. 

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