Acknowledging Zika is "here to stay," the UN health agency on Friday lifted a 9-month-old emergency declaration and prepared for a longer-term response to the mosquito-borne virus that can result in severe neurological defects in newborns whose mothers were infected, the AP reports. WHO officials were quick to note that the move does not mean the agency is downgrading the threat of the virus that has spread across Latin America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. The officials also emphasized that the now-lifted "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" was declared in February, when Zika clusters were appearing and a sharp increase in research was needed—and with the looming Rio Olympics in mind.
WHO said the emergency measures had led the world to an "urgent and coordinated response," but the virus had continued to spread. It acknowledged that "many aspects of this disease and associated consequences still remain to be understood, but this can best be done through sustained research." "It is a significant and enduring public health challenge, but it no longer represents an emergency," Dr. David Heymann, who heads the WHO emergency committee on Zika, said. "There was no downgrading of this." He continued: "If anything, this has been escalated in importance by becoming activities that will be continued in the long-term in the World Health Organization."