BY: STEFANIE AWRONSKI
Zika, the tropical virus that originated in Africa around 1947, has been devastating Latin America and the Caribbean. It has affected more than one million people in Brazil, and close to 4,000 babies have been born with microcepahly, a condition that leaves newborns with smaller heads and brain damage.
Do not get pregnant for the next two years
El Salvador is being trampled full-force by the Zika Virus. The symptoms of the Zika virus are often flu-like and resolve within a week. There are at least 5,000 active cases of the virus, with more than 1,500 reported in the last month alone. So what can be done to cope with this epidemic?
The El Salvadorian Government has advised women to not get pregnant for the next two years, since the virus seemingly causes microcephaly in babies. While the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly is not concretely proven, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan notes that the circumstantial evidence available is “suggestive and extremely worrisome.” Similarly in Ecuador and Colombia, officials have urged women to wait upwards of six months to get pregnant. Naturally, many are outraged that government officials are trying to police wombs.
The virus has affected more than one million people in Brazil, and close to 4,000 babies have been born with microcepahly, a condition that leaves newborns with smaller heads and brain damage.
Monica Roa an abortion-rights advocate and vice president of Women’s Link International has much to say on the issue. Roa said to Abu Dhabi’s The National, “In a continent where unwanted pregnancies abound, it’s completely naive to recommend women delay pregnancy.” “There needs to be an information campaign for women who are currently pregnant about the risks and the options,” she added, calling the public health epidemic a “tragedy” but also an opportunity to improve sex education in the region. Francisco Zelada, who is head of the national teachers’ union in El Salvador, pointedly adds, “You can’t just make mythical announcements that make people laugh. You need to attack the disease in people’s homes, at workplaces, in schools.”
El Salvador is being trampled full-force by the Zika Virus. There are at least 5,000 active cases of the virus, with more than 1,500 reported in the last month alone.
Both make very important points. Those affected urgently need to be informed of the risks and precautions, as they become known. Sadly, Latin America is a region struggling with its violence against women. Abortion is outlawed and heavily restricted in many nations and sexual education is not readily available. If one positive outcome could arise from this tragic epidemic, it would perhaps be further reform for women’s reproductive rights and proper sexual education to promote safe and healthy sex. These reforms are especially crucial in my opinion. As the WHO states, the Zika virus has been isolated in human semen and, in one possible case, person-to-person transmission may have occurred.
To diffuse tensions in El Salvador, Dr. Eduardo Espinoza, the country’s vice minister of health, reiterated that the government’s suggestion to stop having children for two years was not their main solution to tackling the epidemic but rather a “secondary” strategy stemming from “the fact that these mosquitoes exist and transmit this disease.” Efforts to properly clean up the water and to maintain government clinics are hampered by the country’s strong gang culture.
Encouraging women to stop having children for two years is a “secondary” strategy stemming from “the fact that these mosquitoes exist and transmit this disease.”
Espinoza, when pressed again about the pregnancy issue, acknowledged that it perhaps would not be the worst thing if pregnancy rates halted. “The country is the most densely populated country on the entire continent,” he said during a recent news conference. “It wouldn’t be all that bad if we had a reduction in births.”
As the Zika Virus spreads, it will be interesting to see how this issue unfolds in El Salvador and Latin America. Sadly, the Director of the Sao Paulo-based Buntan Institute, who is taking the lead on Zika research, states that it could be anywhere from three to five years before a vaccine is developed. Decline in new births may be attributable to economic and security issues in El Salvador.