11 February 2016

Tanzania: TOC Shrugs Off Zika Virus Threat

Tanzania will send athletes to Brazil's Rio Olympics, regardless of the conflicting, but horrifying reports of deadly Zika virus now widely reported in the Latin American country.

While Tanzania has insisted to send athletes, the neighbours, Kenya are reluctant to send their athletes, saying the move could be fatal.

Tanzania Olympic Committee (TOC) Secretary General, Filbert Bayi told the 'Daily News' that there was no plan to withdraw from the Olympic Games, unless Tanzanian Embassy in Brazil and World Health Organisation (WHO), provide concrete evidence of the presence of the virus and its effect to the Tanzanian athletes while in Brazil.

He said the reports being circulated in mainstream media, especially those from Western Block are both conflicting and confusing to the extent, they seemed to bring fear to the foreign runners and ruin the reputation of the hosting nation.

It has been widely reported that the outbreak of the mosquito- borne disease in South America is being linked to severe birth defects. "I don't expect to send a pregnant athlete in Brazil, therefore why should Zika virus bother me?" he queried.

Bayi, who won 3,000m steeple chase Olympic silver medal in 1980 Moscow Games, was quick to say that he sensed a political motive behind it.

"We will send our athletes as we haven't been officially warned about it," said Bayi, one of the only two Tanzanian athletes who have won Olympic medals. Bayi said what he has read extensively through media are merely chorus of threats being caused by Zika virus, that however, conceal the truth.

On contrary, Kenya could pull out of this summer's Rio Olympics if the Zika virus in Brazil reaches "epidemic levels", according to official report from the country's head Olympic Committee, Kipchoge Keino.

"We are not going to risk, taking Kenyans there if this Zika virus reaches epidemic levels," he said Kenya's Olympic Committee later sought to clarify Keino's comments, saying he may have been quoted out of context.

Kenya's chief of the mission, Stephen K A Soi, said it was too early to determine the severity of the situation and added that Rio's organisers were "on top of things".

Brazilian authorities insists there will be no risk to athletes and spectators, except pregnant women, when the Rio Games take place in August. However, last week the World Health Organization (WHO), declared the virus a global public health emergency.

The International Olympic Committee says it is in "close contact" with organisers, while Olympic venues will be inspected daily in the lead-up to and during the Games.

Meanwhile, the United States Olympic Committee has told American sports federations that athletes and staff concerned for their health should consider not going to the Games.

The Australian and New Zealand Olympic Committees have also said they would support athletes should they withdraw. While the effects are generally mild, the infection has prompted the WHO to declare a global health emergency because of the link to thousands of suspected cases of babies born with small brains-or microcephaly - in Brazil.

Some areas have declared a state of emergency, doctors have described it as "a pandemic in progress" and some are even advising women in affected countries to delay getting pregnant.

Only pregnant women have been advised to reconsider their plans to visit countries affected by Zika.


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