In early April, KIE director Maggie Little was invited by the World Health Organization’s Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to offer ethical guidance on key issues raised by the Zika outbreak. This consultation follows a grant award of £1.2 million from the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust, established to help provide advice on the health interests of pregnant women with the virus.
Dr. Little was one of an elite group of experts personally invited to consult on this matter. After two days of intense discussion, several consensus recommendations were made to guide the WHO and PAHO response to the emergency.
One salient recommendation that emerged concerned the ethical imperative to give all women the capacity to choose among all relevant reproductive options. Taking into account the significant mental anguish about reproductive issues that women experience during the Zika virus outbreak, along with ethical duties to minimize harm and to allow for decisions to be made on the basis of the beliefs, values, situation, and concrete reality of each woman, the capacity to choose should include the full set of options including contraception and termination of pregnancy. This should be framed as equitable access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health. Promotion of women’s capacity to choose goes in tandem with an ethical obligation to support and protect their health.
Further, ethical duties in the following three domains were identified: health care delivery, public health activity, and research. Providing all available information in an honest and transparent manner, which implies being explicit about what information is not yet known, is a crosscutting ethical duty of healthcare providers, Ministries of Health, and governments. The impact on all domains of the ethical duty to share data and research outcomes to enable prompt responses to the health emergency was emphasized. Finally, because the Zika virus outbreak is a global health issue, solidarity was stressed as the principle that should guide the collaboration among countries in the delivery of health care delivery, advancement of public health, and conduct of research.
More information on the KIE’s work with the health interests of pregnant women can be found here.