Colombia finds less babies born with Zika-related microcephaly than expected

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Colombia finds less babies born with Zika-related microcephaly than expected

03 Nov, 2016

This week, the New York Times published a story on the surprisingly low number of children born with Zika-related microcephaly in Colombia. Like other South American countries, Colombia has seen many cases of people infected Zika virus, but unlike other countries such as Brazil, the number of babies born with microcephaly has remained remarkably low.
Microcephaly is a birth defect that often occurs when a pregnant mother has Zika virus during her pregnancy. It is a congenital malformation characterized by a smaller than normal head size for birth and sex. This smaller head size correlates with a smaller brain that lead to seizures, vision and hearing problems, and developmental disabilities.

In Brazil, the number of babies born with microcephaly caused by the Zika virus has surpassed 2,000. In Colombia, officials had predicted that a similar trench would be seen in their country; however, there have only been 47 reported cases in the country, so far.

This low incidence has puzzled researchers who speculate reasons for the trend. A few obvious reasons explain it to an extent: Colombia has a population a quarter the size of Brazil’s and Zika has circulated in Brazil longer, which gave Colombia more time to prepare. Still, these explanations do not account for such a drastically low rate.

Researchers suggest two other reasons for Colombia’s apparent microcephaly dodge. First, the country has some of the most progressive abortion laws in Latin America. The law permits abortions in the case that the mother’s health is in danger and a severely malformed baby is considered a threat to maternal well-being. On the other hand, abortion in Brazil is only permitted in the case of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life and illegal abortions are harder to find than in Colombia.

Secondly, since those in Colombia had extra notice that the disease would probably soon hit their country, women may have heeded the government’s controversial advice to delay pregnancy for at least 6 to 8 months. While this is a plausible answer, it cannot be proven for another 18 months when the national health statistics office pulls the numbers to determine the birthrate for the year.

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