WHO Chief, Margaret Chan, said the organisation towed same line in August 2014, when it declared an international health emergency over West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, allowing the organisation to issue rules to combat the epidemic.
She said the declaration became imperative because the meeting saw a connection between the virus and a jump in the number of cases of babies born with microcephaly.
Microcephaly is a congenital condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads.
WHO chief said the strong connection between Zika and microcephaly was enough to declare a public health emergency due to the heavy burden for the parents.
Chan said the committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of the virus, but that pregnant women should take precautions.
She said the meeting noted that uptick in the number of babies born with microcephaly, which was thought to be connected to the Zika virus, constituted a health emergency of international concern.
“If pregnant women can avoid travel, then that’s a measure.
“If you have to travel, you can wear long sleeves, long pants and mosquito repellents,” she said.
Chan said the lack of vaccinations and rapid reliable diagnostic testing, as well as an absence of population immunity in newly-affected countries, were causes for concern.
She said all experts at the meeting agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts.
Chan said they also agreed that a causal relationship between the Zika virus during pregnancy and microcephaly was strongly suspected, but not yet scientifically proven.
Meanwhile, Brazil has applauded the decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a public health emergency over the Zika virus.
Brazilian Ministry of Health said in a statement that the declaration cleared the way for the country, the country most affected by Zika, to receive international assistance to counter the outbreak of the virus.
The statement noted that in Brazil there have been 3,448 suspected cases of microcephaly, and so far 270 of them have been confirmed.
“Six cases have been connected with the Zika virus.
“The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, is thought to cause birth defects through mother-to-child transmission,’’ it said.
The ministry noted that Brazil, where the outbreak started last year, has seen an increase in the number of abortions running parallel to reports about the spread of the virus.
It said latest report by WHO indicated that there may have been 1.5 million cases of Zika virus in Brazil and that the number of cases in the Americas could grow to 4 million within 12 months.
It added that the virus has spread to all countries in Latin America except Chile, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba.
Fernando Ruiz, Colombian Deputy Minister of Health, said the Country has seen the second-largest outbreak of the Zika virus.
He said there have been about 20,000 cases there, including 2,116 of pregnant women through the end of January, while an estimated half a million Colombians were expected to be infected.