Fewer babies in 2017 - Birth decline in the first quarter of this year linked to ZIKV fears
The Government's decision to issue a Zika virus advisory last year urging women to delay pregnancy is being pointed to as one of the main reasons for a 22 per cent decline in live births in Jamaica between January and March this year when compared to the same period last year.
In January 2016, the Ministry of Health advised women to delay pregnancy for between six months and a year given the potential link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, which is an abnormal growth of the brain of the foetus during the first months of pregnancy and is potentially fatal.
"This major decline, we suspect, is linked to the ZIKV fears and the advisory that we issued during that period of time when pregnant women were susceptible to the effects of having defective babies," said health minister Dr Christopher Tufton during the launch of the Ministry of Health Quarterly Report yesterday.
"So we suspect that this is a demonstration that persons were fearful and that the messaging that went out to support [it] seemed to have worked, and the numbers are there to show," added Tufton.
The Health Quarterly Report noted that the number of births occurring in public hospitals was "unusually low" since October 2016.
Tufton expressed concern about the decline in the number of births and believes that this issue will have to be dissected further to assess the type of persons having children versus those who are not.
"If we continue on that trajectory, we could get to a point where the replacement population is not sufficient to maintain the absolute numbers of our country, which would be a dilemma," said Tufton.
"Frankly speaking, we are now moving in a direction that could harm us," added the health minister.
More than 6,700 live births occurred in public hospitals between January and March this year, with the majority of the births taking place at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, the Spanish Town Hospital, and the Cornwall Regional Hospital.
According to the Quarterly Report, of the 6,826 births this year, 101 were stillbirths. The stillbirth rates across government hospitals for the period January to March 2017 was 14.8/1000 births.