London, Dec 23 (IANS) Over half the women in Brazil are avoiding pregnancy due to fears about the deadly Zika virus, reveals a study.
Zika infection during pregnancy is associated with microcephaly in their babies — that results in unusual smallness of their heads — and other severe fetal brain defects.
The findings, published online in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, suggest that there is an urgent need to reconsider abortion criminalisation, and also to improve reproductive health policies to ensure women have access to safe and effective contraceptives.
“As indicated by the high proportion of women who avoided pregnancy because of Zika, the Brazilian government must place reproductive health concerns at the centre of its response, including reviewing its continued criminalisation of abortion,” the study said.
Since the current outbreak of Zika in Brazil, there have been 1,845 confirmed cases of congenital Zika syndrome in babies.
A team of doctors, led by Professor Debora Diniz from the University of Brasília, wanted to understand how the epidemic has impacted reproductive health practices.
A national survey conducted in June this year used face-to-face questionnaires to collect data about reproductive health and pregnancy, and a secret ballot box to obtain information related to abortion experiences.
Data were collected from 2,002 urban and literate Brazilian women aged 18-39 years, corresponding to 83 per cent of the total female population.
Over half (56 per cent) the women reported that they had avoided, or tried to avoid pregnancy because of the Zika epidemic, the findings showed.
“The results provide an important first glimpse into how the Zika epidemic has shaped pregnancy intentions among women in Brazil,” the study authors noted.