Last month, the US Government passed a bill that, among other things, will provide $1.1 billion towards tackling the Zika virus. This funding will go toward a range of measures from vaccine research to mosquito control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported over 3,600 cases of Zika in US states, and nearly 2,000 in US territories.
In the US, Zika has become a major crisis for communities living in Puerto Rico. According to recent research, up to a quarter of the island’s 3.5 million inhabitants could become infected with Zika, leading to microcephaly or brain defects in over 8,000 babies by this time next year.
Unfortunately, the $1.1 billion promised by the US government won’t reach beyond the United States and its territories. However, as explained by Caitlin Horrigan and Michelle Dixon in a recent blog for The Hill, this crisis isn’t just an American problem. “Zika shows no boundaries,” they wrote, “In fact, rapid globalization and urbanization is the main reason why it has been able to travel.” It thrives in marginalized and underserved communities where people have little access to prevention information and healthcare services, and where poor infrastructure provides the ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Across Latin America, where Zika has been most prevalent, national governments including Brazil and El Salvador have recommended, without providing greater access to contraception, that women should avoid pregnancy during the Zika outbreak. Given poor access to and restrictions on reproductive health care services, including safe abortion, and the endemic prevalence of sexual violence in many of these countries, this guidance will lead to an increase in the number of women and girls who have no other choice but to seek an unsafe means to end their pregnancy. Even without the threat of Zika, millions of women die as a result of unsafe abortion every year with millions more suffering from lifelong complications, disability and infertility as a result of unsafe procedures.