Charity Offers Free Abortion Pills To Women With Zika Virus
The Debrief: In some of the countries worst affected by the Zika virus, like Brazil and El Salvador, abortion is illegal
You’ll have heard or read about the Zika virus in recent weeks. You’ll have seen news reports about the mosquitos that carry it and the women whose unborn babies were affected and born with complications in South America.
This week the World Health Organisation (WHO) have declared an international emergency, saying that the threat to global health from Zika could be bigger than Ebola, as cases in countries around the world are confirmed and the mosquitos which carry the virus are found in places where they wouldn’t normally be expected, such as Sydney airport.
The Zika virus is spread by a particular species of mosquito, called Aedes aegypti. In recent weeks and months a crisis in South America has been growing with cases of the virus reported in Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Here’s a map of affected countries.
The majority of infections are mild and cause few or no symptoms, but therein lies the rub, the Zika virus can cause an infection which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn children because it has been linked to what’s called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with underdeveloped brains.
There have been around 4,000 reported cases of microcephaly in Brazil alone since October. Now that the WHO have issued their alert, Zika is in the same category of concern as Ebola. This means that research into the infection and the virus will be ramped up and that aid will be fast-tracked to tackle it.
Pregnant women living in areas affected by the virus have been advised to take medical advice and protect themselves from mosquito bites while pregnant women elsewhere have been advised not to travel to affected areas. This advice might not seem that helpful for those women who live in affected areas and, indeed, it isn’t. There is currently no vaccine or medication to stop the virus, although Brazil are working to develop one.
Before the WHO’s announcement Latin American governments were advising women not to get pregnant, for instance in El Salvador women were being told to avoid pregnancy until 2018.
Aside from putting off pregnancy all women can do, at the moment, is follow the WHO’s guidelines to do everything to prevent being bitten and ensure that there are no good breeding environments for mosquitos around them – they like containers with small amounts of standing water in them like buckets and flower pots.
One of the things which isn’t really being said, however, is that in many of the affected countries abortion is illegal. In Brazil, for example, it has been reported that the rise of the Zika virus has caused a rise in illegal abortions. Activists in the country have petitioned the Supreme Court to waive a law which bans infected women from getting abortions.
In El Salvador, another affected country, abortion is regarded as murder and can carry a 40-year prison sentence.
Dr Rebecca Gomperts, founder and director of Women on Waves and Women on Web, who provide abortion pills via the internet to women around the world who need them released a statement yesterday, following the WHO’s statement, saying that she will make medical abortion pills freely available to women with the virus.
Women with the virus, who are less than nine weeks pregnant, can fill out an online consultation at Women on Web, they can then send their the laboratory results which show they have Zika and packages containing medical abortion pills will be sent to them for free. The site adds, ‘research by the WHO has shown that a home medical abortion is very safe and effective.’
The site also adds, however, that the Brazilian government intercepts all packages which contain medical abortions and calls on them to suspend this for as long as the Zika outbreaks continue to threaten the health of pregnant women and their unborn children.
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