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Zika outbreak: UN warns against laws restricting pregnancy

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New York – The United Nations (UN) has called for the repeal of laws and policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services in contravention of international standards.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al Hussein, disclosed this in a statement made available to newsmen on Friday in New York.

The statement said that the UN position was in response to advice to women by some governments to delay getting pregnant due to the possible link between the rampaging Zika virus and neurological disorders affecting newborns.

According to the statement, upholding women’s human rights was essential if the response to the Zika health emergency would be effective.

“Clearly, managing the spread of Zika is a major challenge to governments in Latin America.

“However, the advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over when they become pregnant.

“The circumstance is made more difficult in environment where sexual violence is so common,’’ the statement said.

The statement noted that “in situations where sexual violence is rampant and sexual and reproductive health services are unavailable, efforts to halt Zika crisis will not be enhanced by stopping women from getting pregnant’’.

The statement stressed that, amid the continuing spread of the virus, authorities must ensure that their public health responses were pursued in conformity with human health-related rights obligations.

“Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response.

“This requires that governments ensure that women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination.

“Health services must be delivered in a way that ensures the woman’s informed consent, respect for her dignity and the guarantee of her privacy.

“Laws and policies that restrict her access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice,’’ it stated.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a public health emergency on the spread of the virus.

The Organisation had said that causative link between Zika and microcephaly – babies born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brain- and Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a neurological condition), is still under investigation. (NAN)

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