Canadian professor advocates postponing Rio Olympics

The professor, who specializes in public health, says that the Zika outbreak is too much of a threat to public safety in an article published this week in the Harvard Public Health Review

A leading Canadian professor has called on the Olympic Games in Rio this summer to be postponed in the wake of an outbreak of Zika, warning the influx of visitors to Brazil will result in the avoidable birth of malformed babies.

Amir Attaran, a professor specialising in public health at the University of Ottawa, said in an article published in the Harvard Public Health Review that the outbreak of the mosquito borne disease poses a grave risk to the health of spectators and athletes.

Brazil is by far the country most affected by Zika, the disease scientifically proven to cause a range of disturbing birth defects, including babies born with abnormally small heads and neurological problems.

"But for the games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now?" he wrote.

"If the IOC and the World Health Organization do not have the generosity of heart to delay the games to prevent children being born and disabled their whole lives, then they're among the cruelest institutions in the world," Attaran told AP.

"What I'm asking for is a bit of delayed gratification so that babies aren't born permanently disabled."

The World Health Organization declared the epidemic to be a global health emergency and says there are no restrictions on travel or trade with countries affected by Zika outbreaks but advises pregnant women not to travel to those regions.

The International Olympic Committee insists, however, that the event will not be derailed by the outbreak of the virus.

"The clear statements from WHO that there should be no restrictions on travel and trade means there is no justification for canceling or delaying or postponing or moving the Rio Games," Dr. Richard Budgett, the IOC's medical director, told AP.

"The IOC will continue to monitor the situation very closely and work with the WHO, and we're confident as we've been advised by the experts that the situation will improve over the next three months."

There are expected to be about half a million people attending this summer's Games.