Georgetown’s Gostin: Though Not Proven, WHO Should Act Assuming Zika’s Link to Microcephaly

Article ID: 649395

Released: 8-Mar-2016 9:05 AM EST

Source Newsroom: O'Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law

Expert Pitch
  • Credit: O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law

    Lawrence O. Gostin, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law

Newswise — WASHINGTON (March 8, 2016) – Georgetown global health and law expert Lawrence O. Gostin says public health will benefit most if actions taken by the World Health Organization (WHO) are based on an assumption that Zika is linked to birth abnormalities.

Gostin’s reaction comes after the WHO’s Emergency Committee on the Zika virus convened today for the second time. Five weeks ago, WHO declared the clusters of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities strongly associated with the Zika virus outbreak in the Americas a Public Health Event of International Concern (PHEIC).

“The evidence linking Zika to birth malformations has been mounting over the past few weeks and without a doubt, the evidence to date supports the WHO’s recommendation that pregnant women not travel to Zika affected areas,” says Gostin, Faculty Director for the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University and University Professor. “I welcome this important change in recommendations. WHO is now in line with the advice from CDC. Not only does this ensure consistency, but also is the best public health advice based on the science we have to date.”

He adds, “Although the causal connection between Zika and congenital abnormalities in not yet proven, governments and WHO should now operate under the assumption of a causal connection, taking action accordingly.”

Gostin remains concerned about the funding to control Zika. In Congressional testimony given last week for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Gostin said WHO woefully underestimated the funds that would be needed for a global response to stem the Zika epidemic in the Americas.

“WHO needs to be more realistic about the funding it will take to bring the Zika epidemic under control,” he says. “The WHO was right to publish an action plan for Zika, but in the absence of sufficient funding there is little likelihood of a robust response, including aggressive mosquito control, surveillance, maternal/child health care, and development of an effective vaccine. This comprehensive effect will cost billions of dollars.”

Gostin has also called on Congress to fully fund President Obama’s emergency supplemental funding proposal for the Zika response.

Note: Please contact Karen Teber at km463@georgetown.edu to arrange an interview with Gostin.

Click here for a list of Georgetown subject matter experts who can provide comment and context on Zika in the areas of infectious disease (clinical and molecular biology), biology, global health, vector biology, maternal health, microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.


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