The Zika Virus and Brazilian Women’s Right to Choose

Deborah Diniz – The New York Times, 02/08/2016

BRAZIL is in a state of crisis. Since October, there have been more than 4,000 suspected cases of babies born with a neurological syndrome associated with the Zika virus. The Health Ministry has suggested that women avoid pregnancy until the epidemic has passed or more is known about it.

I am a Brazilian woman. My friends who are planning to have children soon are worried about Zika. But they don’t need to be too concerned. In our well-to-do neighborhood in Brasília, the capital, there has not been a single case of a baby with the birth defects associated with the Zika epidemic. As far as I know, not one woman here has even been infected by the virus.

Lost in the panic about Zika is an important fact: The epidemic mirrors the social inequality of Brazilian society. It is concentrated among young, poor, black and brown women, a vast majority of them living in the country’s least-developed regions. The women at greatest risk of contracting Zika live in places where the mosquito is part of their everyday lives, where mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya were already endemic. They live in substandard, crowded housing in neighborhoods where stagnant water, the breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, is everywhere. These women can’t avoid bites: They need to be outdoors from dawn until dusk to work, shop and take care of their children. And they are the same women who have the least access to sexual and reproductive health care.

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