The World Health Organization no longer considers Zika a public health emergency and now acknowledges the virus is here to stay.
The WHO stated on Nov. 18 that neurological complications related to the Zika virus would no longer be considered an emergency, and is working on a “robust program” to smother the outbreak in the long term, Reuters reports.
Despite emergency measures that sent the world into an “urgent and coordinated response,” WHO said the virus continued to spread, according to The Guardian. The organization acknowledged that “many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research.”
"We are not downgrading the importance of Zika, by placing this as a longer program of work, we are sending the message that Zika is here to stay," Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program, told a news briefing, Reuters reports.
“If anything, this has been escalated in importance by becoming activities that will be continued in the long-term in the World Health Organization,” he said, according to The Guardian.
The Zika virus, which is primarily transmitted by mosquitos, but can also be spread through sex, has been traveling around the Americas and parts of Asia for much of 2016. Only about 20 percent of infected people show symptoms, which can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.
The Zika outbreak garnered international attention for its ability to cause birth defects in babies whose mothers have had Zika, including microcephaly -- a condition where the baby's head is abnormally small -- and a neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, Reuters reports.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times that is was premature to lift the state of emergency, since summer is only beginning in the Southern hemisphere.
“Are we going to see a resurgence in Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere?” he questioned. “If they pull back on the emergency, they’d better be able to reinstate it. Why not wait a couple of months to see what happens?”
Fauci has said his agency’s efforts to fight Zika are “unrelated to what the WHO says,” and the institute will continue funding efforts for a vaccine against Zika in coming months, according to Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Fauci’s actions are actually compliant to Salama’s hopes in repealing Zika’s emergency status, telling The Guardian the new phase of fighting the virus requires development donors “to step up to the plate and see this for what it is, which is a long-term problem that the world will have to deal with for many years to come.”