BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — The World Health Organization (WHO) has removed its Zika virus country classification scheme from countries in the region.
The scheme had categorized most of the Caribbean territories as having active Zika virus transmission.
This removal of the mosquito-borne virus by the WHO comes on the heels of data released by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), giving evidence that the Zika virus transmission in the Caribbean had been interrupted for over 12 months, or was at undetectable levels, thereby posing very little risk to residents and visitors to the region. “This was matched by data shared with CARPHA by Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America, which showed that no Zika had been detected for over 12 months in travelers returning from the Caribbean to their countries,” CARPHA noted in a statement.
This evidence was used by Caricom to pen a letter to the WHO Director-General calling for the immediate reclassification of CARPHA Member States from Category 1 — having active Zika transmission, to Category 3 — having no Zika transmission, arguing that the classification system had outlived its useful purpose.
According to CARPHA's Executive Director, Dr C James Hospedales, the Zika classification was not only having an adverse impact on the Caribbean, but it was also against the tenets of the International Health Regulations (IHR).
“This adverse impact was confirmed by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), who made a formal request to CARPHA for the Agency's intervention,” he said.
The WHO decision, backed by CARPHA’s report, sets the stage for the US Centers for Disease Control to follow suit, reducing or eliminating their travel advisory.
“The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world. It is also one of the most popular honeymoon destinations worldwide and ongoing cancellations due to the classification of most Caribbean countries as Category 1 is hurting the industry unnecessarily. Therefore, CARPHA felt compelled to provide the evidence and to advocate for the removal of this WHO Zika classification system,” Hospedales added.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.