The World Health Organization announced that the Zika virus outbreak, linked to deformations in babies’ heads and brains, no longer poses a world public health emergency, though it warned the epidemic remains a challenge. Brazil, the epicentre of the outbreak, has however refused to downgrade the risk, while experts swiftly lashed out against the world health body’s decision. “The Zika virus remains a highly significant and long term problem, but it is not any more a public health emergency of international concern,” the world health body’s emergency committee chair Dr David Heymann said. While Zika causes only mild symptoms in most people, pregnant women with the virus risk giving birth to babies with microcephaly — a deformation that leads to abnormally small brains and heads. It can also cause rare adult-onset neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which can result in paralysis and even death. In the outbreak that began in mid-2015, more than 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika, mainly in Brazil, and more than 1,600 babies have been born with microcephaly since last year, according to the WHO. The UN’s global health agency declared the Zika epidemic a global health emergency in February 2016. Researchers earlier this year warned that at least 2.6 billion people, over a third of the global population, live in parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific where Zika could gain a new foothold, with 1.2 billion at risk in India alone. Brazil yesterday said it would continue to treat the outbreak as an emergency. “We will maintain the emergency (status) in Brazil until we are completely tranquil about the situation,” Health Minister Ricardo Barros told journalists.