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UN agency lifts Zika emergency, prepares for long-term fight

19 November 2016

The infection has been linked to severe birth defects in nearly 30 countries.

The health campaign has been extended and enlarged in the past month, as throngs of Thai people from all over the country are congregating to Bangkok to pay their respects and participate in ceremonies dedicated to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But the change in designation does not represent a downgrading of Zika's importance, officials said.

"That is a recipe for the very lack of preparedness the world has seen time and again with infectious diseases".

The main concern is how the virus can result in severe birth defects when pregnant women are infected.

"I think it's too early to draw conclusions", says Alessandro Vespignani, who models the spread of Zika virus at Northeastern University in Boston.

Furthermore, the EC reviewed and agreed to the WHO Zika transition plan outlined to establish the longer-term response mechanism which delivers the strategic objectives already identified in the Zika Strategic Response Plan.

The WHO's Emergency Committee, which declared an worldwide public health emergency of global concern (PHEIC) in February, said in a statement that they felt that "the Zika virus and associated consequences remain a significant enduring public health challenge requiring intense action but no longer represent a PHEIC". In fact, the World Health Organization stressed that Zika is "here to stay" in countries like Brazil.

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But an expert committee advising the WHO on Zika concluded that a "public health emergency of global concern", as its known in the agency's vernacular, was no longer needed.

The need to investigate the link prompted the emergency, World Health Organization said. Zika and microcephaly will surface wherever there are vectors that can transmit the disease, the experts said.

The declaration put into motion research, coordination and funding to answer that and many other questions about the virus, which was initially thought to be a mild mosquito-borne disease.

Other countries in the region have experienced similar numbers, with Singapore confirming no less than 450 cases in 2016, a large number for the city-state.

But much work remains to be done, including the development of a vaccine, he added.

"The number of confirmed cases [of microcephaly] is less than what we did imagine", Salama said at the press conference.

Salama said 28 countries and territories have now reported microcephaly and 19 countries have reported Guillain-Barre Syndrome.