London, June 23 (IANS) Health warnings about complications related to Zika virus have significantly increased the demand for abortions in Latin American countries, a new study has found.
Zika virus, spread by mosquitoes causes serious complications for unborn children, ranging from eye and hearing defects to microcephaly — abnormally small heads — and other severe foetal brain defects.
In November 2015, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) issued an alert about the Zika virus in Latin America, following which several countries issued health advisory warnings, including urging women to avoid pregnancy.
The findings showed that amongs all of the countries that had issued health warnings about Zika, the number of requests for abortion doubled in Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuala as well as increased by over a third in most of the other countries.
In countries that had issued no health warnings, there was no statistically significant increase.
However, in many of these countries, abortion is either illegal or highly restricted, leaving pregnant women with few options and potentially driving women to use unsafe methods, access abortion drugs without medical supervision or visit underground providers, said the paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“It isn’t enough for health officials just to warn women about the risks associated Zika – they must also make efforts to ensure that women are offered safe, legal, and accessible reproductive choices,” said Catherine Aiken from the University of Cambridge.
Researchers analysed data from Women on Web — a non-profit organisation that provides medical abortion outside the formal healthcare setting through online telemedicine, in countries where safe abortion is not universally available.
They analysed the website between January 2010 and March 2016 in 19 Latin-American countries, to assess whether requests for abortion increased beyond expected trends following the Pan American Health Organisation alert.
“The World Health Organisation has predicted as many as four million Zika cases across the Americas over the next year and the virus will inevitably spread to other countries,” Aiken added.