ZikV causes rise in abortions

September 08, 2016
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Dr Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health, speaks at The Star offices yestrerday.

Amid fears that the Zika virus could trigger microcephaly in new-born children, an increasing number of Jamaican women are reportedly turning to rogue doctors to have their pregnancies terminated.

"There is definitely a fear factor and that may be contributing to a higher than normal level of abortion," Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told The Star yesterday of the practice that is illegal in Jamaica. Tufton was speaking at a forum held at this newspaper's North Street offices in Kingston.

Health practitioners have said that the possibility of a child, whose mother contracted ZikV, being born with microcephaly, ranges from less than one per cent to 13 per cent. The Government had encouraged Jamaican women to delay getting pregnant as a result of the risk associated with ZikV.

Dr Nadine Johnson, feto-maternal specialist and obstetrician and gynaecologist, said she was yet to see any indication of severe microcephaly in the unborn children of Zika-positive women who have been referred to her for examination. "I am optimistic that the majority of our patients will be OK," she said.


birth defects


ZIKV can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. National Epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr said that while there are no hard numbers to confirm that more abortions are taking place, the Ministry of Health has reason to believe that this is the case. "We don't have figures about termination, but we also listen to what is happening on the ground. We are looking on a few things. We are looking on the number that would go to our health facilities ... It is anecdotal," she said.

Dr Dayton Campbell, member of parliament for North West St Ann, has called for pregnant women who are positive for the Zika virus to have the option to do an abortion. Campbell also recently put forward to Parliament the suggestion that Government should consider making abortion services available to pregnant women who are confirmed to be carrying a baby with microcephaly.

Tufton yesterday said the Government was not considering relaxing the law to allow women who contract ZikV to have abortions. "I don't envison any revision of the law at this point in time," Tufton said.

As of last Friday, there were 501 suspected Zika cases among pregnant women, 35 of which are laboratory confirmed cases. The ministry has been notified of 7,078 persons who may have contracted the mosquito-borne illness.

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