Malaysia health authorities to give fatwa council details of Zika effect on foetus

A worker sprays pesticide at an apartment block area in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 8, 2016.
A worker sprays pesticide at an apartment block area in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 8, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's health authorities will explain to the National Fatwa Council the effects of Zika on a foetus to help the religious authority decide whether abortion should be allowed if a pregnant woman is infected by the virus.

The council has been asked to look into the matter and come up with a consensus following discovery that babies of Zika-infected mothers risk being born with microcephaly - a medical condition in which the brain does not develop properly.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam is hoping that a meeting between the council and health authorities could be held next week.

"Although a religious authority had come out to say that abortion is allowed in such cases, it is better and more assuring to the public if there is a joint consensus by the National Fatwa Council on the matter.

"We are ready to give a medical perspective on this issue," he told reporters yesterday.

Federal Territories Mufti Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri was recently quoted as saying that abortion was justified in cases where the mother was infected with the Zika virus following consent from both parents who had obtained a clear understanding about the issue.

To date, there have been six cases of people infected by the virus in Malaysia, two of whom were pregnant.

Malaysia's policy on abortion is that it is permissible in cases where the mother's life is threatened by the pregnancy.

Dr Subramaniam said that tests conducted on the first two Zika patients produced different results. The woman from Bandar Botanic in Klang had the French Polynesian strain of the virus while the man from Kota Kinabalu had the Micronesia strain.

"We have records to say that the Micronesia strain was detected here before but unlike the French Polynesian strain, which is found to cause microcephaly, there is no evidence to say the Micronesia strain causes the same medical condition.

"But we don't want to take any chances. So, we will give the same advice to pregnant patients irrespective of the virus strain found in them," he said, adding that tests had been conducted on the four other patients. "The results are pending."

Most Zika cases in Brazil are found to be of the French Polynesian virus strain.

Since June, health authorities have conducted blood and urine tests on 828 individuals suspected to be infected with Zika and all the results came out negative.

Checks and fogging were also done in some 3,000 houses in areas where Zika was reported.

Dr Subramaniam said similar tests would be conducted on athletes and officials returning from the Rio Paralympic Games, adding that similar tests were done on athletes who took part in the Olympic Games last month.