The MHTF Quarterly shares resources, research and news in key maternal health areas. This quarter, we’re focusing on the Zika virus and maternal health.

The Zika virus, primarily transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitos, can cause serious neurological conditions in fetuses and newborns such as microcephaly. The history of the Zika virus dates back to the mid-twentieth century when the first human case was discovered in Uganda. After spreading to equatorial Asia, the first large Zika outbreak in humans occurred in the Federated States of Micronesia. Since then, the rapid spread of Zika has been tracked throughout countries in Asia and, most recently, in the Americas. While mainly transmitted by the mosquito vector, the Zika virus can also be transmitted through sexual contact.

The link between Zika and microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by inadequate perinatal brain development, has led public health professionals to prioritize preventing Zika transmission to pregnant women and from pregnant women to offspring. Microcephaly is a lifelong condition with no known treatment or cure that is characterized by smaller heads in babies and other severe conditions such as seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, hearing loss and problems with vision, feeding and movement.

Given the risks, some Zika-affected countries have recommended that women postpone pregnancy by abstaining from sexual intercourse or using contraceptives. Such policies challenge women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and can exacerbate existing inequities. Women of low socioeconomic status and in low-resource settings are at a higher risk of being exposed to the Zika virus and of having an unplanned pregnancy as they tend to lack access to quality family planning, a full range of safe and legal pregnancy options and antenatal care services.

Thus, the Zika epidemic has highlighted issues regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights and inequities in access to services, providing a unique opportunity to identify the most vulnerable populations and to improve not just the health of pregnant women and newborns, but also of women more generally.
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Zika virus infection: Step by step guide on risk communications and community engagement

Pan American Health Organization | September 2016

Zika strategic response plan

World Health Organization | 2016

Zika ethics consultation: Ethics guidance on key issues raised by the outbreak

Pan American Health Organization | 2016
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The right(s) approach to Zika

The Lancet Global Health | July 2016

A literature review of Zika virus

Emerging Infectious Diseases | July 2016

Sexual and reproductive health and rights in the time of Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean

Studies in Family Planning | June 2016

Zika virus and birth defects: Reviewing the evidence for causality

The New England Journal of Medicine | May 2016

Zika virus and pregnancy: What obstetric health care providers need to know

Obstetrics & Gynecology | April 2016

The emerging Zika pandemic: Enhancing preparedness

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association | March 2016

Pregnancy in the time of Zika: Addressing barriers for developing vaccines and other measures for pregnant women

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association | March 2016
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Prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus: Interim guidance

World Health Organization | September 2016

Practice advisory on Zika virus

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists | August 2016

Infant feeding in areas of Zika virus transmission

World Health Organization | August 2016

Provisional considerations for the care of pregnant women in settings with high Zika virus circulation: Document for health care professionals

Pan American Health Organization | June 2016

Guidelines for surveillance of Zika virus disease and its complications

Pan American Health Organization | May 2016

Pregnancy management in the context of Zika virus infection

World Health Organization | May 2016

Psychosocial support for pregnant women and for families with microcephaly and other neurological complications in the context of Zika virus: Interim guidance for health-care professionals

World Health Organization | February 2016
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Addressing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Is Vital to Zika Response

Kayla McGowan | June 2016

How Zika Is Shaping the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Agenda

Kayla McGowan | April 2016

To Fight Zika We Must Fight Poverty and Powerlessness and Ensure That Women Enjoy Their Rights

Alicia Ely Yamin | February 2016
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Key Reports

Key Publications

Technical Resources

From the MHTF Blog

The Zika crisis: Latest findings
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Zika virus resource centre
The Lancet

Zika virus situation reports
World Health Organization

Event recap: How Zika is shaping the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda
The Wilson Center Maternal Health Initiative

Zika virus: Characteristics of the infection and the public health response

Zika virus health information resource guide
National Institutes of Health

Morbidity and mortality weekly report Zika reports
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

MHTF is always looking for new resources, research, perspectives and news. We invite your feedback as well as any resources you would like to share. Please email your comments, questions, suggestions and blog contributions.

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Copyright © 2016 Maternal Health Task Force at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, All rights reserved.

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