Brazilians Avoiding Pregnancy in Wake of Zika Outbreak

(CN) – The 2015 Zika virus outbreak in Brazil has led many women to avoid pregnancy, suggesting the consequences of the epidemic extend beyond the range of birth defects associated with the virus.

In a brief letter published Thursday in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, a team of researchers report that 56 percent of women surveyed as part of a nationally representative sample said they avoided getting pregnant because of Zika. That finding was even more common among women at higher risk of contracting the mosquito-borne virus.

The survey of 2,002 literate women between the ages 18 and 39 sheds light on how Brazil’s abortion and reproductive health policies could prevent access to safe and effective contraceptives as the fallout from the epidemic continues, according to the study.

“As indicated by the high proportion of women who avoided pregnancy because of Zika, the Brazilian government must place reproductive health concerns at the center of its response, including reviewing its continued criminalization of abortion,” the team argues.

The researchers recommend providing a range of contraceptive methods for Brazilian women of reproductive age, including long-lasting reversible contraception. Copper intrauterine devices – which last up to 12 years – are scarce in Brazil, and hormonal implants, which last up to four years and are 99 percent effective, are not available in the nation’s public health services.

While 46 percent of women in southern Brazil – which saw fewer cases of Zika transmission – reported avoiding pregnancy, 66 percent of women in the epidemic’s center of northeastern Brazil actively avoided getting pregnant, according to the team.

Women of color were more likely to report avoiding pregnancy than white women, reflecting the disproportionate impact of the epidemic on vulnerable groups, the researchers add.

The team found no significant differences among the nation’s main religious groups.

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