Global call for contraception in Zika areas

Feb 18, 2016, 4:58 PM EST
Pope Francis. Source: Republic of Korea/flickr
Pope Francis. Source: Republic of Korea/flickr

Pope Francis has said that the use of contraception in areas that are threatened by the mosquito-driven Zika virus might be the "lesser of two evils" as he says preventing pregnancy is not an absolute evil, but abortion is. The World Health Organization has also raised a global call to embrace contraception in countries such as Brazil that are facing widespread issues with the prevalence of the virus. Reuters reports on how experts are now questioning statistics on Zika's number of infections:

Since the beginning of the Zika outbreak in Brazil that is now spreading rapidly in the Americas, public health authorities have cited a statistic that only about one in five people infected by the virus develops any symptoms.
Experts, however, are now questioning whether this standard assumption understates the actual percentage who become ill, saying the finding was made nearly a decade ago in a vastly different setting: a sparsely populated island in Micronesia.
"We have to question that number," said virologist Mauricio Lacerda Nogueira of the São Jose de Rio Preto medical school in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. "The reality of an outbreak on a small island is completely different from that in a big country with many different types of people, climates and other conditions."
The pope compared the situation to a decree issued by Pope Paul VI, which said nuns in Africa could use contraception due to the threat of rape.
"Avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil," Francis said. "In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also ask doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on."
Many Latin American countries — including Brazil, now ground zero for the virus — are predominantly Roman Catholic. Zika has reignited difficult debates in those countries about abortion and, in some cases, birth control, as some governments have advised women to delay getting pregnant. The new recommendations are likely to complicate that dynamic even further, as some of them directly contradict the long-term teachings of the Catholic Church.
For example, the health agency’s recommendation that women who have had unprotected sex and fear pregnancy because of Zika should have “ready access to emergency contraception services and counseling” is a reference to the morning-after pill and pregnancy counseling services, which, in many countries, could include abortion services. (A spokeswoman for the W.H.O. could not immediately clarify if abortion services were part of the recommendation.)