Requests for abortion medication have increased among several Latin American countries since last November, when the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, issued an alert regarding Zika virus infection within the region, according to correspondence recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Abigail R. A. Aiken, MD, PhD, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues wrote that because abortion is illegal or highly restricted within Latin American countries, many women living in the region have obtained abortion medication through the nonprofit organization Women on Web (WoW). To describe any changes in abortion rates associated with the Zika virus outbreak, the researchers examined WoW’s abortion medication request data from Jan. 1, 2010, to March 2, 2016. They analyzed the requests by self-reported country of origin, and grouped these countries based on abortion restriction and endemic disease status. In addition, Aiken and colleagues asked all women requesting abortion during the last 3 weeks of the study period to specify whether or not their request was related to concerns of Zika virus infection.
With the exception of Jamaica, abortion requests increased in every country where Zika virus was autochthonous, abortion was restricted and a public health advisory had been issued (range, 36% to 108%). The researchers observed fewer increases in countries where Zika was not locally transmitted, and no significant increases among control countries or those with autochthonous transmission but no public advisory.
While the researchers had insufficient data to identify a correlation between increasing requests and Zika concerns, they found that the countries with request increases were also those in which a higher percentage of women reported Zika concerns as the primary reason for abortion. However, Aiken and colleagues also noted that these estimates are likely an underestimate due many of the women in these countries seeking abortions through illegal and unsafe methods.
“Models that were developed by [WHO] predict that 3 million to 4 million persons across the Americas will contract Zika virus infection through early 2017, and the virus will inevitably spread to other countries where access to safe abortion is restricted,” the researchers wrote. “Official information and advice about potential exposure to the Zika virus should be accompanied by efforts to ensure that all reproductive choices are safe, legal and accessible.” – by Dave Muoio
Disclosure: Aiken reports grants from the NIH during the conduct of the study. Please see the full study for a complete list of relevant disclosures.