Zika and the Olympics

PanoramaRioLet me first say that as both a sports fan and a human being, I absolutely love the Olympics. Frankly, I find it inspiring that we the people of planet Earth, all 7,326,969,000 of us, regularly put aside all of our differences so that we may reconvene every four years to play games (read my previous post on the 1992 Olympics here). And with the 2016 Olympics right around the corner, I had planned on writing about the fastest human in recorded history, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, and his chances of winning an unprecedented third straight 100-meter dash. Alas, we are less than 100 days away from the Opening Ceremonies, and it all seems pretty unimportant. As you’ve probably heard and tried to ignore, Brazil is ground-zero for the ongoing Zika epidemic, and Rio de Janeiro is at the heart of the outbreak. Zika is an especially cruel virus. It doesn’t kill its victims, but instead causes major birth defects in their children. The CDC and WHO have both recently confirmed that Zika causes microcephaly in newborn babies. It’s as heartbreaking as it sounds, and some now believe that the Olympics must not proceed. Allowing hundreds of thousands of athletes and sports fans from every nation on Earth to enter the Zika “hot zone,” and then allowing them to return to every corner of the globe, is downright irresponsible, they claim. Amir Attaran, professor of law and public health at the University of Ottawa, recently published a commentary in the Harvard Public Health Review insisting that the Olympics should be moved, postponed, or both. You can read his very compelling arguments at this link, and you can listen to his subsequent interview with NPR at this link. His appeal has generated headlines, but there is almost no chance that his suggestions will be heeded. Despite labeling the Zika outbreak an international public health emergency, WHO has never suggested moving the games (links here and here), and, as of now, the Opening Ceremonies are still scheduled for August 5. Stay tuned for updates…