Reproductive Justice

Debora Diniz

19 de April, 2023

Zika: From the Brazilian Backlands to Global Threat

Northeastern Brazil, December 2014. Health clinics were crowded with people describing symptoms of a mysterious illness: skin rashes, intense itching, conjunctivitis, and mild fever. Doctors and scientists had to race against time to investigate it. Later on, women who had reported having mild dengue fever during pregnancy received a terrifying diagnosis in prenatal care: white spots and an interrupted development of the central nervous system. Several tiny newborns crowded the maternity wards of five Brazilian states.

In April 2015, the Zika virus was identified as the cause of the mysterious disease in Brazil. Seven months later, its relationship with microcephaly and other neurological syndromes was proven — both among newborns and adults. In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern. Between February and June 2016, Debora Diniz stayed in northeastern Brazil, interacting with ordinary women, doctors, and scientists. From December 2015 to April 2016, she participated in international groups and meetings convened by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 

From this unique perspective and with rigorous literature review, the author tells the story of the Brazilian epidemic that threatens the world. Beyond information about prevention, transmission, risks for pregnant women, Guillain-Barré syndrome and other complications, the anthropologist reveals

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