Why the Rio 2016 Games will be completely safe for athletes, participants and spectators
Rio 2016’s chief medical officer explains measures being taken against the zika virus and how studies show the risk of infection is very low
The Olympic Games in Brazil will be a historic and memorable event. Considering this and the statistical data, I was recently asked about Spanish NBA basketball player Pau Gasol, who had expressed concerns about coming to Rio because of the zika virus. “Come to the Rio Olympic Games!” I said. I was an athlete, and for most of us, we only have one chance to appear at the Olympics. It might not be the case for him, but it is for many.
And if we are going to talk about zika, it is worth knowing 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. Statistics from the Ministry of Health, which has a history of data on dengue, a virus also transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito, back up this statement.
Furthermore, we have conducted 44 test events this year, the majority of them in the summer, the peak period for zika. With more than 7,000 athletes, 8,000 volunteers and 2,000 staff participating, there was not a single case of contamination.
We are completely in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO), following their guidelines as well as the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The WHO, the IOC and Rio 2016 would never put the health of athletes or tourists that will visit the city at risk. We are carrying out the organisation of the Games responsibly and with a thorough understanding of the complexity of our mission.
We will maintain mass and individual preventative measures. Municipal healthcare authorities will continue to carry out daily inspections at Olympic venues. We will also continue to give guidance to the athletes, delegations, all accredited visitors and spectators. We will act with absolute transparency including with pregnant women or women intending to have children in the near future, because of the threat of microcephaly. We know just how sensitive the issue is; pregnant women sometimes do not experience the general light symptoms that zika usually provokes, so we advise they consult their doctor to understand the risks before travelling.
At the end of May, Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC (Centres for Disease Control) said that there was no reason to cancel or postpone the Rio Games on public health grounds. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the same thing: “There is a very low or no risk of visitors catching zika in Rio this year.”
Frieden of the CDC, also says that travel to Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games will represent less than 1% of all travel to zika-infected areas. With this in mind, he adds that if the Games were not to happen or if they were postponed, 99% of the risk of zika would continue to spread across the world because of general international travel.
The Lancet Journal, one of the world’s leading health and medicine publications, published recent findings of researchers who have been studying the evolution of dengue and stated: in all probability, for every one million tourists, an average of 1.8 people will be affected. This is equal to one case of zika out of the 500,000 visitors expected to be in the city during the Games.
As for the spread of zika via sexual contact, it is important to clarify that it is already a policy of the IOC at every edition of the Games to act in conjunction with health authorities in order to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. This concern has existed long before zika.
As you can see, I am sure that the Rio Games will be completely safe for athletes, participants and spectators. What’s more, we will put on a memorable Olympic and Paralympic Games, a party of joy and unity, something that Brazilians know how to do well. Come and join us.