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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 providers

Manual and Guideline
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On 1 February 2016 WHO announced that a cluster of microcephaly (1) and other neurologic disorders reported in Brazil is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Several countries have reported an increase in the incidence of cases of microcephaly and/or Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) (2) concurrent with Zika virus outbreak (3). A causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly is strongly suspected, though not scientifically proven (4).

This document describes guidance for a supportive response by healthcare providers (e.g. physicians, nurses), focusing primarily on women affected by Zika virus infection during pregnancy and their families, for their mental health and psychosocial needs.

Healthcare workers need to collaborate with colleagues in other sectors (e.g. social work, education) for a coordinated mental health and psychosocial response.

This guidance for healthcare providers suggests strategies that can be helpful when consulting with the following groups of women and their families:

  • Pregnant women with suspected or confirmed Zika virus infection

  • Pregnant women who know they carry a child with suspected microcephaly

  • Caregivers and families of an infant with microcephaly

When caring for pregnant women, it is important to involve trusted people who can support them. These may be the woman’s partner, her friends or family members. Bear in mind that these people may need psychosocial support as well.

Psychosocial support for other neurological conditions

Although this document is focused on microcephaly, many of the described supports (e.g., providing accurate information, supportive communication, providing basic psychosocial support, strengthening social supports, managing concurrent mental disorders) also apply to other neurological conditions - such as Guillain-Barré syndrome - that may be potentially associated with Zika virus.