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Sense International welcomes WHO’s declaration of public health emergency

2 February 2016

Sense International today responded to the announcement from The World Health Organization that the recent cluster of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities linked to the Zika virus outbreak, predominately in Latin America, constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Yesterday, WHO Director General, Margaret Chan, called Zika an “extraordinary event” that required a global co-ordinated response.  Sense International supports the WHO’s declaration as a call to action that will mobilise the necessary resources and international focus to prevent the further spread of the Zika virus.

Sense International encourages the WHO, Governments and donors to not forget in their response to this public health emergency, that long term measures and resources will also need to be put into place to ensure the rights of the children born with microcephaly can access the early intervention, education, life and vocational training that they will need to reach their full potential.

Gillian Morbey OBE, Chief Executive of Sense and Sense International, said:

“We welcome the World Health Organisation’s commitment to addressing the growing numbers of babies being born with microcephaly and other associated neurological abnormalities, through its focus on containing and eliminating the Zika virus.

"Sense was founded by families of those born with congenital rubella syndrome during the Rubella outbreak of the 1950s and 60s in Britain. We know from experience that the right support is crucial to helping a person who is deafblind develop to their full potential.

“We encourage the international community to develop the measures and resources that will be required to ensure that the children and families affected by the virus receive the support they will need.

“Sense International will focus its advice and support in those regions most affected, on these vital long term services for babies born with microcephaly and their families.”



Media enquiries:

For enquiries about Sense International, please contact Laura Brown at the Sense International press office on 020 7014 9381 or email

Notes to editors:

About the Zika Virus:

The Zika virus can be transmitted through certain mosquito species, generally resulting in a relatively mild illness in infected persons. However, experts advising the WHO agreed that there is a strong causal relationship between Zika infections during pregnancy and the recent cluster of babies born with microcephaly, and that this is of the greatest concern.

Microcephaly is a condition in which babies are born with heads which are smaller than expected and it is often associated with incomplete brain development. These children can also display a range of other mild to severe health issues including; seizures, developmental delay (such as with speech, balance and movement), intellectual disability, feeding problems, as well as combined hearing and vision loss.

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About Sense International:

Sense International is a global charity supporting people with deafblindness in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Peru, Romania and Uganda. We are one of the world’s leading international organisations working for people with deafblindness and their families.

Deafblindness is a combination of both sight and hearing difficulties. Some of these people are completely deaf and blind, but others have some remaining use of one or both senses.

Causes of deafblindness include premature birth and exposure to rubella during pregnancy, which can cause babies to be born deafblind. Sense International therefore supports MMR which has proven to be the most effective vaccination programme against rubella. Some genetic conditions, such as Usher syndrome, can also result in deafblindness. People can also become deafblind at any time through illness, accident or in older age.

First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019