Health emergency

Countermeasures against Zika virus raise ethical dilemmas

A group of pregnant women wait to be attended at a health clinic in Guatemala City. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization has declared an international public health emergency out of concern that the Zika virus can cause brain damage and birth defects in children. And on Thursday Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a health emergency after at least nine cases of Zika virus were discovered in the state. But measures to restrict the virus’s impact on pregnant women and their unborn children face a multiplicity of practical and ethical problems, particularly outside the U.S. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a condition that causes brain damage and the development of unusually small heads in infants. Efforts are being made to develop a vaccine against the virus, but the need to use expectant mothers in trials to test a potential vaccine’s efficacy, a problem described as a “practical and ethical nightmare” by experts, is expected to greatly slow progress.

Authorities in Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador have been encouraging women to delay pregnancy for up to two years in order to avoid children being born with microcephaly. This is a particularly problematic response, given that in these predominantly Catholic countries, birth control is considered “evil” by the Church, and the Church advocated “rhythm method” is notoriously ineffective. Plus, for women who become pregnant, options are limited. Due to strict abortion laws and inaccessibility of abortion clinics, 95 percent of abortions in Latin America are already performed in unsafe conditions. As the Zika virus crisis continues, a lack of options is likely to push the number of illegal and unsafe abortions even higher.

Read the full story at The Guardian, CNN and The Guardian.

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