With the Zika virus quickly spreading across the Americas, the World Health Organization will announce next week whether the disease is a global emergency, according to NBC News. In the next 12 months, there may be three to four million infected by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. 80 percent won’t even be aware they have Zika, but 20 percent may end up with rashes, fever, or pinkeye, CNN reports.
Though Zika is mostly seen as harmless, it is very dangerous for pregnant women and their children. Zika has been tied to microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with small heads and underdeveloped brains. The BBC reports that “the brain condition can be deadly or cause intellectual disability and developmental delays.” Women affected with Zika have already given birth to thousands of babies with microcephaly.
Earlier this week, scientists from the United States said a Zika vaccine was still 10 years away, but because of the severity of the illness to pregnant women, a Canadian scientist may have one ready to go by the end of the year, according to Reuters. Brazil’s Butantan Institute planned to have a vaccine “in record time,” which would mean about three to five years.
In the meantime, government officials in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and El Salvador are advising women to avoid getting pregnant – a response has been widely panned by human rights organizations, which note the unfair burden on women to assume this public health responsibility when their access to contraception, family planning information, and abortion is limited (or outright forbidden). Not to mention the rampant sexual violence against women in Central America, which can result in unwanted pregnancies.
Currently, abortion is only fully legal in three countries in all of Central and South America: Uruguay, Guyana, and French Guiana. Everywhere else in the region, abortion is only allowed in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is at risk – and in some countries it is illegal no matter the circumstance, according to Time. Only Mexico, Colombia, and Panama accept fetal impairment as a reason to terminate a pregnancy.
“You’re asking women to make a choice that sounds logical from a health perspective, but it’s not a real choice,” Tarah Demant, senior director of the Identity an Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International, told Time. “It’s putting women in an impossible place, by asking them to put the sole responsibility of public health on their shoulders by not getting pregnant, when over half don’t have that choice.”
Here’s a look at how three countries with strict abortion rules are handling Zika virus: