Zika Virus and Reproductive Health:

Monday, March 7, 2016

  • Fumigation of a residence in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

    Fumigation of a residence in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

Canada has had its first confirmed case of the Zika virus. The virus, carried by only one species of mosquitoes, originated in Uganda in the 1940’s and has seen a recent resurgence in Brazil and many other countries in South and Central America.


It’s no surprise that the arrival of the virus has pushed the conversation of women’s health and reproductive rights to the forefront of the public sphere. In the immediate panic surrounding the spread of the virus, the initial travel warning cautioned women who were planning on getting pregnant in the next two years not to travel to affected areas, or to delay their family planning process until at least 2018.


Notable political figures are recognizing difficulty of placing of advising women on what to do with their bodies rather than creating legislation and for individuals to make their own decisions.


The effects of the virus can be dangerous and devastating. Pregnant women are advised not to travel to affected areas due to the risk of microcephaly, a birth defect symptomatic of the virus which leads to the malformation of the skull and incomplete brain development.


But what’s been pushed into the spotlight by a number of grassroots activists, community and international health organizations, and even prominent world leaders is the importance to equip and educate those at risk as opposed to caution them against travel and intercourse.


The situation seems to echo former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. As El Salvador is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, has issued a plea to citizens to delay family planning. Many other South American governments are finding themselves equally as desperate to curb the spread of the virus. Asking your population to cause a sharp decrease in the birth rate could have dangerous implications for development, specifically pertaining to the population growth rate and the inevitable gap in the labour force. If that’s the situation, why not implement sexual education and prevention of sexually transmitted infection/disease/virus programming?


Puerto Rico recently placed a freeze on condom prices in the entire country: the hope is that by keeping condoms affordable and ensuring that corporations can’t profit off of the increase in demand, combined with increased sex education, that the populace will recognize the importance of practicing safe sex not only for themselves, but for future generations.


In what could be considered a ground-breaking, historical retraction from previous teaching, Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of artificial contraceptives to prevent the spread of Zika. This includes oral and hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills, and condoms. The differentiation lies in the recognition by the Pope and Vatican representatives that “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil” and due to the extraordinary circumstance, is being recognized as the “lesser evil” in this scenario.


While the Catholic church maintains their stance on abortion as an “absolute evil” even in the situation of Zika, this most recent approval of contraceptive use is at least a small step in the right direction for reproductive education and understanding, though long past its due. 

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