The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency over the rapid spread of the Zika virus. Though our understanding of the virus is still in the early stages, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is linked to a high rate of birth defects. As a result, global health organizations have advised women in affected areas to avoid pregnancy. The recommended solution? Condoms.
But in Latin America, the heart of the outbreak, this is easier said than done, and you can thank the Catholic Church for that.
Since the colonization of Latin America by Spain, the region has been heavily Catholic. With more than 425 million practitioners, the area is home to over 40% of the world’s Catholic population. Though more and more Catholics are leaving the Church for Protestant denominations, it still has significant sway when it comes to social norms and public policy — two arenas that serve as roadblocks as the region looks to combat the spread of the Zika virus.
One of the ways health workers are encouraging people to fight the spread of the virus is by using condoms. This packs a double whammy: no pregnancy means no potential birth defects and decreased likelihood of infection. Unfortunately, the Church’s hardline stance against contraception renders such a suggestion socially unacceptable. Leaders in the Church throughout Latin America have reinforced the idea, much to the chagrin of those seeking to combat the virus.