Geneva: The World Health Organization said Thursday it will convene an emergency committee on the “spreading explosively” Zika virus.
The meeting scheduled for Monday will examine whether the Zika outbreak should be classified as an international health emergency, a statement from the WHO said.
WHO’s Director General Dr. Margaret Chan said the virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas and “the level of alarm is extremely high.”
While she said the relationship between Zika and birth defects has not yet been fully established, links are “strongly suspected” which have “rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.”
Experts on international health matters have accused the World Health Organization of acting far too slowly in raising the alarm about Zika.
Twenty-four countries have reported cases of the virus and the WHO has predicted it will eventually end up in virtually every Western Hemisphere country.
Until last year, the virus had not been a major concern for health officials, causing mostly mild symptoms in around 20 percent of those infected.
“The situation today is dramatically different,” Chan told a briefing of the WHO’s executive board Thursday. “The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty… Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly.”
Zika’s arrival in Latin America has been associated with a “steep increase” in cases of microcephaly, in which babies have underdeveloped brains and small heads, as well as a rise in case of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which attacks the nerves and can lead to complete paralysis, Chan said.