Abortion campaign for Zika patients

Microcephaly victim Pietro Rafael reacting to stimulus during evaluation by a physiotherapist at a rehabilitation centre in Recife, Brazil. He was born with brain damage and impaired vision.
Microcephaly victim Pietro Rafael reacting to stimulus during evaluation by a physiotherapist at a rehabilitation centre in Recife, Brazil. He was born with brain damage and impaired vision. PHOTO: REUTERS

Petition to Brazil court to allow abortions for women with virus linked to birth defects

RIO DE JANEIRO • A group of lawyers, activists and scientists plans to petition Brazil's Supreme Court to allow abortions for women who have contracted the Zika virus.

The move comes as the number of suspected cases of microcephaly - a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and is believed to be linked to the virus - surges in Brazil.

Abortions are illegal in Brazil except in health emergencies, cases of rape or - since 2012 - cases of another brain condition known as anencephaly.

The petition will be delivered to the court in two months' time, the BBC reported.

 
 
 

The group will argue that "the Brazilian state is responsible for the Zika outbreak" by not having eradicated the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus. Brazilian women "should not be penalised for the consequences of flawed policies", it says.

The group behind the petition also won the exception for anencephaly in 2012.

There is as yet no vaccine against Zika, which the top US health authorities have described as a "brand-new" virus that has expanded swiftly in recent years. No matter how fast the world acts, it will be years before a vaccine is widely available, said Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The number of microcephaly cases in Brazil has soared from 163 a year on average to more than 3,718 suspected cases since the outbreak, and 68 babies have died, according to the health ministry.

Brazil reported the first cases of Zika in South America in May last year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said between 500,000 and 1.5 million people have been infected in the country.

On Thursday, the WHO warned that the Zika virus is "spreading explosively" in the Americas and the region may see up to four million cases of the disease.

WHO head Margaret Chan said an emergency committee will meet on Monday to determine whether the outbreak amounts to a global health emergency and how the world should respond.

There is as yet no vaccine against Zika, which the top US health authorities have described as a "brand-new" virus that has expanded swiftly in recent years.

No matter how fast the world acts, it will be years before a vaccine is widely available, said Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"This is a brand-new virus so we, prior to this time, have really not spent anything on Zika," he said.

Nor is there any vaccine on the market yet against the dengue virus, which comes from the same family of flaviviruses.

The US government is appealing for all kinds of research on Zika and will draw from a pool of US$97 million (S$138 million) to fund studies on everything from how it spreads to how it causes disease and how to control the mosquitoes that spread it.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will issue guidelines this week aimed at protecting athletes and visitors from Zika as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the world's biggest sporting event from Aug 5 to 21.

"We will do everything to ensure the health of the athletes and all the visitors," IOC president Thomas Bach told reporters.

"We are in close contact with the World Health Organisation as well as with the organising committee and the Brazilian authorities."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Abortion campaign for Zika patients'. Print Edition | Subscribe