It’s been almost a month since the World Health Organization (WHO) first declared the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern due to potential birth defects in babies born to infected mothers. WHO and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have now issued a strong call for the use of contraception in Latin American countries affected by the Zika virus. Furthermore, the WHO is recommending that women in affected areas should have access to emergency contraception, especially if they think they could be pregnant.
This may be complicated for residents living in the countries most affected by Zika—Latin American countries, including Brazil—where many women don’t have easy access to reproductive health information and services.
Jon O’Brien, president of the nonprofit Catholics for Choice in Washington, explained that while conservative Catholicism generally disapproves of emergency contraception, efforts have been made to consider when it can be used appropriately. Pope Francis has indicated being open to flexibility and supporting the use of contraceptives to prevent the spread of Zika.
The Zika virus, mainly spread by mosquitos, poses additional harm to pregnant women. It has been linked to birth defects and a rise in Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological condition which can cause temporary paralysis. Further complicating matters, it now also appears to be sexually transmitted. There is still a lot that is unknown about Zika, but one thing is clear: women need access to quality reproductive health information and services to help protect themselves and their children.
Video: Learn more about the Zika virus from the WHO.
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For the latest updates on the Zika virus, read the latest situation report from the WHO. You can also read the full article from The New York Times and check out Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus, an interactive article with maps and everything you could think to ask about this latest health crisis.
Lead photo is from the WHO video on the Zika virus.