ResourcesPress Release

Zika Virus Highlights Limitations to Reproductive Health Policies in Affected Countries

States Must Take Specific and Immediate Actions Beyond Pregnancy Avoidance Warnings

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today that an urgent response to the Zika virus outbreak must include a coordinated global effort based on public health and human rights principles and that warning against pregnancy is a clearly insufficient approach to mitigating the effects of the virus. PHR released a paper today outlining priority actions the international community and governments should take to respond to the spread of the Zika virus.

“Recommendations to avoid pregnancy in countries where governments regularly limit women’s access to reproductive health services are absurd,” said Marianne Møllmann, PHR’s senior researcher. “Today’s WHO emergency meeting should move to implement policies that empower women to protect themselves.”

PHR outlined immediate actions that must be taken to address the Zika outbreak:

  • Global support for coordinated assessment, surveillance, and identification of risk factors: The international community, led by the WHO, should immediately design and implement a plan for consistent detection and surveillance of the virus, as well as identification of immediate and long-term effects of infection.
  • Coordination of appropriate strategies for containing the spread of Zika: In the case of mosquito-borne diseases, experience shows that the affected community must be educated and involved in implementation, and that most successful interventions include a mixture of barrier strategies such as the use mosquito nets and insect repellant, behavioral strategies such as covering open water containers, and community-based strategies such as the draining of ponds and other mosquito breeding grounds and the use of insecticides in larger areas.
  • Ensuring a coordinated strategy for dissemination of information: Information on transmission, how to prevent transmission, and how to mitigate symptoms for a person who has been infected must include ensuring access to family planning methods, addressing intimate partner violence, and developing easily comprehensible information about the actual risks and prevention factors for Zika infection.
  • Avoiding blanket testing: Strategies for detection of the virus must avoid blanket testing of pregnant women even if they are asymptomatic. All testing must be based on informed consent. No one should be compelled to obtain an abortion or to carry a pregnancy to term.
  • Review and approval of treatment and vaccine: All safeguards must be taken to ensure that any drug approved for human use has passed through the appropriate clinical studies and review process. International investment and support should ensure that this process is as short as possible.

“We need a concerted, coordinated approach to the Zika outbreak,” said Møllmann, “one that fully respects the human rights and autonomy of those at risk."

PHR submitted its recommendations on the Zika crisis to the WHO, which has called an emergency global coordination meeting today.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.