As a case of sexually transmitted Zika infection was reported in the US yesterday, the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s (IPPF) Director General, Tewodros Melesse urged that more must be done to ensure contraceptive access is at the forefront of the response.
In a statement by IPPF’s Director General, Tewodros Melesse said in response to reports of Zika in Ireland and US yesterday. “The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Further guidelines are needed for a comprehensive effort to tackle the epidemic. We need more guidance from WHO to ensure that the rights of women are at the forefront of the Zika response. Updates are essential now that sexual transmission is emerging as a potential mode of infection that puts people at risk.”
It is clear that further surveillance and research is necessary to confirm if this is a possible mode of transmission. If proved that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted, it will be important to ensure the integration of sexually transmitted infections (STI) prevention strategies as part of control efforts.
The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) reported that it is likely that the infection in the US was transmitted through sexual contact. IPPF will continue to monitor the situation. With this potential for sexual transmission, it is advised to ensure access to condoms and to promote use along with other forms of contraceptive methods. Male and female condoms are effective for preventing unintended pregnancies as well as the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
In response to the calls for women to delay pregnancy in some of the affected countries, Mr Melesse said “It is essential to recognize that women have the right to make decisions about their reproduction, including if and when they have children, but this is not always possible in areas of poverty and where sexual and gender based violence rates are high.”
“Delaying pregnancy will not be an option for some, so every response must be tailored to the individual. The Zika response must include a sensitive approach to pregnant women who are concerned and need testing, while access to contraception should be available to all. Governments must ensure that their medical services have the supplies for those whose want it. We recommend that strengthening family planning programs and access to safe abortion services for those women who need it and where it is permitted by law should be included in the strategies for responding to the Zika outbreak.”
IPPF is a network of sexual and reproductive health and rights organisations in 170 countries that are equipped to monitor and respond to any member of the public who wants information, services, contraception and access to abortion and are available to serve at the first point of response.