Uh-Oh: More Than 200 Doctors Call for Moving or Postponing Rio Olympics

by Jim Geraghty

This is unnerving: About 200 doctors, most of whom are affiliated with big-name, respected institutions and who don’t appear to be paranoid nut-jobs, want the upcoming summer Olympic games to be postponed or relocated from Rio de Janeiro, citing the risks of the Zika virus.

It is indisputable that holding the Games as scheduled has a greater risk of accelerating the spread of the Brazilian viral strain than the alternatives. Postponing and/or moving the Games also mitigates other risks brought on by historic turbulence in Brazil’s economy, governance, and society at large—which are not isolated problems, but context that makes the Zika problem all but impossible to solve with the Games fast approaching.

We are concerned that WHO is rejecting these alternatives because of a conflict of interest. Specifically, WHO entered into an official partnership with the International Olympic Committee, in a Memorandum of Understanding that remains secret.18 There is no good reason for WHO not to disclose this Memorandum of Understanding, as is standard practice for conflicts of interest. Not doing so casts doubt on WHO’s neutrality, for reasons described further in the Appendix.

Most of the doctors signing the petition are medical school professors, infectious disease researchers, molecular biologists — the sort of people who would seem to know a thing or two about the potential risks of Zika. The heightened risk seems common sense; in August, more then 10,500 athletes and their coaches and trainers will come to Rio; separately, about a half million foreign tourists are expected to fly into Rio… exposing themselves to Zika-carrying mosquitos for a few days or weeks, then flying back to their home countries. if you were trying to expose as many people as possible, you would probably come up with a plan like this.

Dr. João Grangeiro, Rio 2016’s chief medical officer, told a news conference that “the incidence of the mosquito that transmits the virus is extremely low in August and September, which is winter in Brazil and the period in which the Rio 2016 Games will take place.” Better hope there’s no heat wave.

If the doctors affiliated with the Olympic organizers say the risk of infection to athletes and visitors is low, but the doctors not affiliated with the Olympics say the risk is significant… who do you trust?

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