Calls to delay Rio Olympics due to Zika


A New Zealand father of children with microcephaly wants the Rio Olympics delayed until it's known what is causing a surge in birth defects there.

More than 4000 cases have been reported in Brazil, with suspected links to an outbreak of the Zika virus.

Most people are hearing about microcephaly for the first time, but for Thames dad Cliff Robinson, he's known all about the condition which causes brain damage and deformities for nearly 50 years.

His two adult children, Marita, 49, and Johnny, 46, were born with undersized heads. Their cases of microcephaly were nothing to do with Zika -- they were genetic.

"I'd sort of forgotten about the condition because we don't hear much about it in New Zealand. Of course, I have Marita and Johnny," says Mr Robinson. "And all of a sudden I see these little mites with the small heads and I thought 'my goodness, what's happening here?' All of a sudden we've got a disaster on our hands.

"I instantly thought of the battles of the parents of those kids are going to have."

Mr Robinson, 79, is their full-time carer, and has been a vocal advocate to get family carers in New Zealand paid. He knows what hard work the parents are in for.

"They can't do the things that a lot of us take for granted," he says. "Marita would love to get married and have children, but of course that's an impossibility.

"And then there are side issues that occur with Johnny, like he's schizophrenic and has diabetes. Often it's not just the brain development; it's many other physical and mental conditions that go with the microcephaly."

He fears more cases of microcephaly could emerge if the Olympic Games go ahead in Rio in August.

"I think it should be deferred for at least a year till we find out exactly what is the cause [of the spike in microcephaly]."

Mr Robinson says the risks are just too high.

"I'd call on the New Zealand Olympic Committee to give serious consideration to appealing to the parent body," he says. "I know that'll be hard on athletes, but what's more important, a gold medal or a microcephalic child?"

He says he has a rewarding relationship with his children, but admits life's been tough, and worries for those in the poorer parts of Brazil.

"What's the future hold for the mothers of these babies? I just shudder to think," Mr Robinson says. "They'll have to devote themselves to that child forever. I mean, that's a daunting prospect."

He says New Zealand has boycotted the Olympics in the past, but he hopes the organisers of Rio will step in first and postpone the Games.