By Carolina Vásquez Araya From Guatemala / Source Marcha.org / The Dawn News / March 2, 2016. In early February, the UN required that the countries affected by the zika virus provide sex education and modify the restrictive laws criminalizing abortion in cases where the mother’s health could be at risk. Given this, the debate on the recognition of the right to abortion repositions itself in Our America.
A thorn in the eye wouldn’t be more annoying to the governments of the region than the proposal made by the UN about giving the right to abortion and access to contraception for women living in countries where there is currently a high incidence of zika, like those of Latin America.
The prevalence of Catholic doctrine in Latin American countries, whose influence is even printed in constitutional texts —despite the fact that most States define themselves as lay— constitutes an apparently insurmountable obstacle for one of the social problems of greater impact in these countries, especially amongst poor populations without access to health, let alone sexual and reproductive education.
Hence the fear of an uncontrolled increase of clandestine abortions, with potentially fatal consequences, that would arise as a direct consequence of the prohibition of abortion. Furthermore, the environment in which the life of these communities develops is so vulnerable and marginalized that in the near future there are no greater prospects for effective action to prevent the spread of zika, chikungunya, dengue or even malaria. But, additionally, there is hunger and malnutrition, lack of access to health services and indifference from governments.
An estimated 25 million women lack access to contraception in the Latin American continent, and to this we must add the number of people who do have access but do not use them for religious reasons or ignorance. There are also problems of domestic violence, rape, incest and human trafficking, that current system doesn’t address with State protection. This creates a problem of enormous dimensions which requires an analysis through a humanitarian, health and rights vision, more than a doctrinaire manifesto.
The victims of most diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are found in rural or marginal areas, unprotected and subjected to the will of local authorities, who usually have been elected through campaigns funded through financial and political agreements. These authorities often lack the technical and legal knowledge to make this kind of decisions which involve high levels of responsibility, so then, states in the region are held in a chain full of broken links. Their “herculean task” is to design and implement coherent health policies and that can be adjusted to the emergency of the moment, as it is this pandemic zika, which is blighting people and their unborn.
Symptoms of mosquito-borne diseases are widely known to have been reported by all the media, but mainly for those who have access to them. However, protective measures are relative to the living conditions of people: in the worst cases, they either do not exist or are virtually impossible to implement, in order to avoid the worst consequences of these evils, such as microcephaly in infants and the Gillian Barret syndrome, for which there is no known cure.
If states in the region do not take immediate action regarding their responsibility to protect people and families -which is common for all, no doubt- they will find a humanitarian crisis out of proportion. The timing to take this decisions, even though it is difficult, is inevitable.