— -- The World Health Organization reported today that the fight against the Zika virus has entered a new phase, ending the virus' designation as a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern."
In a statement today, the WHO said they were ending the emergency designation as they focus on a "robust" long-term response to fight the virus, which rapidly spread through South and Central America this year.
The WHO director general designated the disease a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" in February 2016 due to the initial starting outbreak and because there was an "urgent" need for research to understand the effects of a Zika infection. After research proved a link between Zika virus infection and birth defects including microcephaly, officials felt a different kind of response was needed, according to their statement.
"The EC [Emergency Committee] felt that Zika virus and associated consequences remain a significant enduring public health challenge requiring intense action but no longer represent a PHEIC [Public Health Emergency of International Concern] as defined under the IHR [International Health Regulations]," WHO officials said in a statement today. "Many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research."
WHO officials are now advocating for the development of a sustained program with "dedicated resources to address the long-term nature of the disease and its associated consequences."