Is Zika epidemic a lose-lose game for WHO?


Milan, 4th February 2016

Is Zika epidemic a lose-lose game for WHO?

Uncertainty is common, in the first phases of an infectious outbreak. However, when facing of a serious threat to global public health, even if complete evidence is lacking, someone has to take the responsibility to push the red button that activates a chain of coordinated actions (such as cooperation among states and research on vaccines).

Choosing to do this, the risk of giving a false alarm is unavoidable. On the other side, one could decide to wait, until something more is known, with the awareness that, in this way, it is possible to act when it is too late.

Facing the diffusion of Zika virus in Latin America, Margaret Chan, WHO director general – at least for the third time in few years – found herself in front of that button, while experts couldn’t provide her with sure answers to her most relevant questions, such as a certain causal association between the widespread diffusion of Zika epidemic and an apparent increase in the number of cases of microcephaly and Guillain Barré syndrome.

The issues at stakes in this tough decision, along with the challenge of risk communication in such cases, are discussed in a new feature published on the website of ASSET project, which aims to bring Science-in Society themes into the public debate on epidemics and pandemics.  Gender and ethical aspects are considered as well.

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                           Roberta Villa


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