Zika, a disease caused by Zika virus, can be spread from mother to child, through sexual contact, mosquito bites and blood transfusion. While most symptoms of Zika are mild, Zika infections in pregnant woman has been linked to microcephaly and other birth abnormalities. Zika has now been declared as a public health emergency of international concern. As a complement to the news and near panic around the illness we are featuring five unheard voices on Zika:
Unheard voice 1: How politics in Brazil makes this worse
“The ability of the state to properly respond to sexually transmitted diseases in general is really compromised, and there is nothing from the political point of view that is going to change soon,” says Sonia Correa, a co-chair of the Sexuality Policy Watch at the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association in Rio de Janeiro.
The political turmoil and conflicts in Brazil have heavily influenced the ways in which women are protected from the sexually-transmitted Zika virus. Conservative forces in Brazil’s congress has taken steps to censor and eliminate HIV prevention campaigns and restrict reproductive rights, which in turn make the task of preventing Zika more challenging and controversial.
Unheard Voice 2: Turning to the Black Market
“Here in my town there’s nothing else to do,” wrote a woman whose medication was confiscated twice by the government to Women on Web. “It’s either your service or nothing.”
Brazilian officials have recently begun to confiscate abortion pills shipped into the country by Women on Web, the international abortion advocacy organization, despite there being more than 4,000 women in the country who have given birth to babies with shrunken skulls — a condition linked to the Zika virus. Without an access to these pills or safe abortion treatments, these women often turn to illegal and dangerous black market drugs, which may endanger their lives.
Unheard Voice 3: A state of confusion and fear for pregnant women
"There is a lot of fear about Zika and pregnancy, but women don't have a lot of options even if they have a desire to comply with the advice," said Joshua Michaud, associate director of global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Zika virus has renewed discussions about abortion policies in South America, which is predominantly Roman Catholic. The situation is complicated by various factors: the uncertainty of the actual effects of the Zika virus, the differing policies across South American countries, the lack of options regarding abortions and contraception, as well as the potential impact of a country-wide delay of pregnancy. Yet, this uncertainty means that women currently pregnant are left in a state of confusion and fear, without clear guidance or available resources and information to make decisions.
Unheard Voice 4: Husbands' and fathers' voices
“[The mother] knows her baby has brain damage but her husband refuses to acknowledge it. "Maybe not for others but for me he's going to be a normal kid - he's going to study and do everything a normal child does," insists [the husband].”
This article captures the raw emotions of parents, whose babies have been affected by microcephaly due to the outbreak of the Zika virus. This micro, on-the-ground perspective highlights and humanizes the trauma and burden of the ongoing health crisis in South America.
Unheard voice 5: How women must be central to a rights based response to Zika
“We aim to ensure that women are empowered, their contributions to the response recognized, and their rights and health—including their sexual and reproductive rights—kept firmly at the centre of the response in a supportive policy and legal environment,” Mlambo-Ngcuka writes. “This is the opportunity for governments and the United Nations to involve women’s machineries and women´s organizations in an effective, rights-based response, and to demonstrate the true meaning of the centrality of women to the new agenda.”
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, calls for women empowerment in the combat against Zika Virus: to create an action plan of women, by women, and for women. She highlights the disproportionate effect of the Zika virus on young and poor women and states the need for more education, support systems, and policy changes to protect women’s lives and rights.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website