Ricardo Barros

The Zika virus has had no adverse effects on the test events for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and preventive actions against the mosquito that transmits the virus are securely in place.

We are now less than six weeks away from the beginning of the greatest sports event on the planet. When the 2016 Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro in early August, Brazil will be welcoming athletes and representatives from some 200 countries, along with hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists.

In the context of concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus, our health care system is fully prepared. Preventive actions against the Aedes aegypti mosquito are securely in place, with 24/7 monitoring in Rio and the other locations where events will take place.

The circulation of the Zika virus will not prevent us from having a safe event for athletes and spectators. The risks are minimal. A study published by Cambridge University predicted there might be one case of infection among the 500,000 tourists who are due to arrive. And the World Health Organization confirmed a couple of weeks ago that the risk of propagation of the disease is very low.

It's helpful also to place our Zika situation in a global context. During the period of the Games, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, the very large number of arrivals in Rio will still only represent 0.25 per cent of all travel to Zika-affected areas worldwide. The virus is already circulating in 60 countries, with the exposed populationin Brazil representing only 15 per cent of the global total.

Zika risks are declining in the Brazilian winter months ©Getty Images
Zika risks are declining in the Brazilian winter months ©Getty Images

It's worth bearing in mind that the Olympics will be taking place during the winter in Rio, when the rate of transmission of diseases by Aedes aegypti is atits lowest. Also, the various initiatives that have taken place to combat themosquito, including public investment in monitoring and prevention, havealready had a major impact on the rate of infection, which dropped by 87 per cent between February and May. Right now in Rio there are 3,000 public health workers continuing the fight.

During the 51 test events that have taken place for Rio 2016, all monitored by the Health Ministry, not a single case of Zika infection has been registeredamong the participants. Likewise, on the journey of the Olympic Torch through more than a hundred Brazilian towns and cities since early May, no new cases have been reported.

Brazil, of course, has recent experience in organising huge international sporting events. Before and during the 2014 World Cup there were also concerns about a possible epidemic, in that case of dengue fever. As it turned out, a total of three cases were reported among visiting football fans.

World number one Jason Day is one golfer to have withdrawn from Rio 2016 due to Zika fears ©Getty Images
World number one Jason Day is one golfer to have withdrawn from Rio 2016 due to Zika fears ©Getty Images

Protecting the health people coming to Brazil for this global event is, needless to say, an absolute priority for our Government.

In Geneva recently, I had the opportunity to reiterate to the International Olympic Committee that we would never put the health of athletes and tourists at risk. We are taking every necessary measure to ensure the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games are not only a milestone in sporting history but also absolutely safe. 

I therefore say without hesitation: come to Rio!