ATLANTA (Feb. 4, 2016) — As concerns grow about the spread of the Zika virus worldwide, the humanitarian organization CARE says the medical emergency disproportionately affects poor women who bear the brunt of the disease and have the least resources to fight it.
The mosquito-borne virus, linked to birth defects, has been steadily spreading across Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 20 countries and Puerto Rico are currently battling outbreaks of the virus, which has no cure or vaccine. On Feb. 1 the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a “public health emergency of international concern.”
CARE health experts say the Zika crisis underscores the importance of women’s rights to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
“The reality is that the women most at risk for Zika face a double injustice,” says Jesse Rattan, director of CARE’s global program in sexual and reproductive health in emergencies. “They are poor and often live in communities with poor sanitary conditions which are ideal for this type of mosquito. And they have the least access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, at a time when they need it most.”
Some women, for example, may wish to avoid pregnancy to minimize their risks, but many women in Latin America, and throughout the world, do not have access to the information, services and supplies they need to avoid pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23 million women in Latin America have an unmet need for contraception.
What’s more, restrictive government policies as well as societal expectations of women and girls constrain their ability to make their own decisions, not only about if and when to have children, but also if and when to have sex, leaving many particularly vulnerable.
For example, adolescents (ages 15-19) birth rates in Latin America are very high, at 79 births per 1000 women. This is higher than any other region, except sub-Saharan Africa.
“Any recommendations to avoid pregnancy need to target both men and women and need to be accompanied by support for counseling, comprehensive reproductive health services and supplies,” Rattan says. “Just saying ‘delay pregnancy’ without access to these services is not an effective response.”
CARE works across the world supporting women and girls to take realize their sexual and reproductive rights, and supports girls’, women and couples to plan and space their pregnancies, by equipping them with the information, services and supplies they need to make full, free and informed choices.
To set up an interview with Jesse Rattan or other CARE experts on this topic, please contact Nicole Harris, CARE’s media relations manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-735-0871.
About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE has over six decades of experience helping people prepare for disasters, providing lifesaving assistance when a crisis hits, and helping communities recover after the emergency has passed. CARE places special emphasis on women and children, who are often disproportionately affected by disasters. To learn more, visit www.care.org.