Zika Virus Outbreak: Women Warned Not To Get Pregnant

Zika Virus Outbreak: Women Warned Not To Get Pregnant

A Scary Zika Virus Outbreak Has Led To Extreme Policy Proposals In South America

Just when the World Health Organization was finally close to eradicating the spread of Ebola in the western countries of Africa, the threat of a virus outbreak appeared across the Atlantic. It’s called the Zika virus, and the biggest threat is to pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Up until now, there have been confirmed cases of infection in 21 different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Mexico. The most common symptoms include headaches, mild fever, conjunctivitis and a small rash (although some people present no symptoms at all). The virus is spread through mosquito bites, although there is research being conducted to find out if the virus can be transmitted human to human.

In several countries of South America, governments have adopted what some consider very drastic measures. The governments of EL Salvador, Brazil and Colombia have asked their female populations not to get pregnant until the risk is controlled. Many, especially women, have seen this measure as a violation to their sexual rights and liberties.

However, the biggest danger the virus poses is to pregnant women and unborn babies since the Zika virus has been associated with microcephaly, a lack of proper growth in the brain of babies in the womb which results in babies born with an abnormally small head and potential neurological damage.

The spread of the Zika virus, which began in October last year in Brazil and rapidly moved through South America, now threatens to reach the United States according to declarations of the World Health Organization, especially with the increasing rise of temperatures and humidity.

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While warning that the virus could spread throughout the Americas, President Barack Obama has emphasized the need to speed up all efforts aimed at finding a vaccine and ensuring that society is well informed about the virus, how is it spread, the symptoms and how people can protect themselves.

“Mr Obama was briefed on the potential spread of the virus by senior officials on Tuesday, with one recent study suggesting that the virus may affect regions where 60% of the US population lives.”

US National Institutes of Health Director Dr Francis Collins is urging further studies to be conducted in order to confirm if there is indeed a link between the virus and the microcephaly in children. A positive confirmation of this would reinforce the measure of delaying pregnancies as a possible measure to deal with the virus outbreak.

While the measure might seem to some to violate reproductive rights, in the long term it might be for the best. But the question would be: how to stop women from getting pregnant? Most Latin American countries forbid abortion, teenage pregnancies are very common and contraception is not very popular – which may have to change. Yet again, what about our sexual rights? Where do you draw the line between public health and the rights of individuals? We may all have to figure that out.

Cover image courtesy of Day Donaldson (Flickr – CC-BY-2.0)