Because of the growing worry over the Zika virus and particularly the risks it may pose to pregnant women and their babies, we dedicated the second episode of The Mom Pod to this topic. To explore both the medical side of the virus as well as the connections of this epidemic to poverty, women’s rights and gender equality, Emma interviewed Dr. Anthony Costello, the Director of the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alaka Basu, a demographer and a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation.
While both interview subjects agreed that the epidemic is of serious concern, particularly to pregnant women and women who lack the ability to control their reproductive choices and therefore might not be able to avoid pregnancy, whether wanted or unwanted – the epidemic also poses an opportunity to amplify and elevate the public discussion about women’s right to sexual, reproductive and family planning services.
If there is anything positive to be found from the Zika virus outbreak, it is the fact that it has brought the contraception discussion to the forefront of global media. Also, as pointed out by Ms. Basu during our interview, while mosquitoes don’t pick their victims based on income levels, poor people have much less control over their neighborhoods, hygiene and surroundings that wealthy people, and therefore are often at much higher risk of mosquito bites. Poor women also lack access not only to sexual and reproductive health services, but to proper and high quality neonatal, post-natal and pediatric services – despite of whether they are carrying a healthy baby, or a baby with a developmental defect.
The problems that the Zika outbreak has brought to the surface are not new, but because of the epidemic are now being seen in a new light. Let’s hope that one of the outcomes of this situation is expanded, accessible and affordable access to family planning services, contraceptives and safe and legal abortion to women not only in the countries affected currently, but everywhere in the world. Both Dr. Costello and Ms. Basu also pointed out that in addition to worrying about women who are at risk of infection, we also need to pay more attention to the families who are already affected by a child born with microcephaly and ensure that these families get all the support services and health care services they need to ensure that their children can have the best possible chance at a healthy and happy life.
Even children with brain abnormalities can often do remarkably in terms of coping with the brain that they have – and we need to maximize the chances that their childhood development is good. I think we have to pay attention to that affected group as well.
Dr. Anthony Costello, WHO
Listen to the podcast to find out what these two experts had to say about the epidemic – but for your convenience, we have compiled the key takeaways from this episode, as well as important resources with up-to-date, factual information about the virus and the epidemic below.
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- Most people infected by the Zika virus will experience very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all
- In some cases the Zika virus may pass through the placenta to the baby and could potentially cause birth defects, such as microcephaly – however, the link has not yet been confirmed
- There is cause to believe that in rare cases the virus may be transmitted through sexual intercourse
- Pregnant women who live in Zika affected areas should take all possible measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites
- Women who are pregnant and have planned a trip to Zika affected areas should talk with their healthcare providers, and if possible, postpone their trip to best ensure the safety of their babies
- Priority measures should include containing the breeding of the mosquitoes, and preventing bites through measures such as wearing clothing that covers up as much of your skin as possible, using insect repellant with DEET and covering up windows, open doorways and beds with mosquito nets
- CDC: Zika virus information hub
- WHO: Zika virus Q&A video
- WHO: Microcephaly and Zika virus infection – Q&A
- WHO: Zika virus fact sheet
Cover photo credit: Stephan Bachenheimer/ World Bank