‘I’m having my baby now!’ - Jamaican women ignoring warnings to avoid pregnancy because of Zika risks
More than eight months after the first reported case of the Zika virus in Jamaica and a public advisory for women to delay pregnancies, local health officials are finding that some women are choosing to ignore the warning and exercise what they believe is their reproductive right.
Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum recently, public health nurse Dawn-Marie Richards said based on her assessment, some women are not concerned about getting pregnant despite the reports of a link between Zika and foetal malformations, including microcephaly, which is a condition where babies are born with abnormally small heads, and neurological disorders, including Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS).
"Persons will specifically tell you I can't put off my pregnancy because of something that may or may not happen," said Richards, who is an executive member of the Nurses' Association of Jamaica.
"People are doing what they want to do and they continue to get pregnant because it is their reproductive right, and they will tell you that it is their reproductive right," added Richards.
She noted that several of the pregnant women have been taking the necessary precautions, such as using mosquito repellents, cleaning up their surroundings and using mosquito mesh to protect themselves.
"You know people have delayed pregnancy because of job promotion or because they are going to school, or whatever, so if they have set a target for themselves and they have achieved certain targets and they are moving with their timeline, more than likely they are moving to the next timeline, which may have been to start their family," Richards told The Sunday Gleaner.
As of September 2, there were 572 notifications of Zika virus infections in pregnant women. Of this figure, 501 were classified as suspected Zika in pregnancy and 35 were laboratory-confirmed cases.
Director of Emergency Medical Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, said she is especially concerned about the number of adolescents getting pregnant, despite the advisory.
"I realise I am seeing a lot of 16, 17, 18-year-olds who are pregnant and there is no concern at all about ZikV," said Bisasor-McKenzie.
When contacted, Dianne Thomas, director of communication and public relations at the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), said her organisation has spent large sums of money on public-education campaigns aimed at providing information on how to delay pregnancy.
Of note is the 'Choose 2' campaign which encourages women to use a contraceptive method such as the Depo-Provera injection, oral contraceptives or a long-acting reversible contraceptive, along with a condom.
Although the organisation had procured adequate supplies of contraceptives following the advisory from the Ministry of Health to women to delay pregnancy, Thomas said there has not been much movement in their inventory.
The NFPB is the agency responsible for procuring contraceptives on behalf of the Government of Jamaica.
"Pills and condoms are dog cheap here at the NFPB," said Thomas, who explained that one month's supply of oral contraceptives cost only $20, and condoms are for $10 each.
"At a time like this, people need to protect themselves," said Thomas.
Like Richards, Thomas found that some women are choosing to take the wait-and-see approach instead of being proactive, because they are yet to see an established link between microcephaly and ZikV locally.
She said she is also mindful of the fact that some women also have issues using certain contraceptives, or might not have control over their contraceptive use.
"You have some women who, based on their biological make-up, are not in a position to take any of the methods, so even down to the very condom they say they can't use because they say they are going to get certain itching. You have the women who can't take the Pill because she says she is going to throw up, and on Depo-Provera she is going to get all bloated and big," noted Tomas.
Director of health promotion and protection unit, Dr Sonia Copeland, said they are cognisant that some adolescents and women do not have control over their sexual and reproductive rights, and efforts are being made to help this group of women.
"We met with many women's group this year and we had that same discussion about many women in our society, adolescents as well, not having control over their sexual and reproductive choices, and so we have partnered with Women Centre and UNFPA, which is a UN development body, to be on the ground speaking with these women and also discussing these same issues that we are talking about," she said.