Zika virus
The Zika virus is now present in 23 countries and territories in the Americas. In picture: A health worker fumigates the Altos del Cerro neighbourhood as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Soyapango, El Salvador 21 January, 2016.Reuters

With the deadly Zika virus spreading to as many as 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, at least four nations -- Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Jamaica -- have called on women to delay their pregnancies to avoid the risk of birth defects. 

The 20 nations in the region that are currently facing the outbreak of the mosquito-born viral disease, as listed by the World Health Organisation, are -- Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela. 

Colombia's Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria asked women in the country to stave off pregnancies by at least six months, according to Reuters. About 13,500 people in the country have been infected by the virus, of which 560 are pregnant women.

Pregnant women infected by the Zika virus are believed to be at risk of giving birth to babies with microcephaly -- a condition where the infants have abnormally small heads. In Brazil, where the  Zika fever outbreak began, nearly 50 babies have died after being born with serious defects that have been linked to the virus. 

The scare has also spread to Jamaica, where no case of the virus has been reported yet, urging women to delay pregnancies, Reuters reported. 

Officials in Ecuador and El Salvador have also issued similar warnings to women, with the latter telling women to push pregnancy plans till 2018.

However, women's rights groups have slammed these governments for asking women to stall pregnancies while not providing sufficient contraception and sex education.

"It's incredibly naive for a government to ask women to postpone getting pregnant in a context such as Colombia where more than 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned and across the region where sexual violence is prevalent," Monica Roa, vice president of strategy for Women's Link Worldwide, told Reuters