The UN has urged Zika-stricken countries to give women better access to birth control and abortions to slow the virus’ spread. The WHO called for $25 million to fight the virus amid fears 4 million could become infected.
Amid growing concern about the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to babies born with abnormally small heads, the UN Human Rights office called on Latin and South American countries to stop restricting access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion.
The Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights said it is worried pregnant women aren’t able to access accurate information and medical options after contracting the virus, which is spread through mosquito bites and possibly through sex.
“We are asking those governments to go back and change those laws,” said UN OHCRH spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly, “because how can they ask those women to become pregnant but not offer them information that is available and the possibility to stop their pregnancies if they wish?”
Pouilly said in a region where sexual violence is rampant, women must have the option of safe and legal abortion services.
In most of South America, abortion is either illegal or restricted to cases of rape, where the mother’s life is threatened or when there are other severe health issues.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus to be global emergency after it spread to more than 20 countries in the Americas.
WHO officials said on Friday they would seek $25 million for a six-month program to fight the virus amid fears of up to 4 million cases.
Although Zika normally causes no or only mild symptoms, the link to birth defects has strengthened the case for coordinated international action.
On Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suspected link between Zika and a birth defect known as microcephaly appears “stronger and stronger.” As well as abnormally small heads, babies with microcephaly are born with an underdeveloped brain.
Separately, US health officials warned men who traveled to areas most affected by the virus to use condoms if they have sex with a pregnant woman. The guidance suggested abstinence as an alternative protection measure.
Paulo Gadelha, president of the Fiocruz Research Institute, said at a news conference that scientists have found live samples of the virus in saliva and urine samples, but called for further study and said it was not clear which bodily fluids could transmit the virus.
He said pregnant women should avoid kissing people other than a regular partner or sharing cutlery, glasses and plates with people who have symptoms of the virus.
The advice comes as Brazil’s Carnival season got underway on Friday. The celebrations include massive street parties where it is common for people to kiss strangers.
Also on Friday, Germany said it had 15 known cases of the Zika virus, a spokesman for the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine told the dpa news agency.