In Brazil and around the world, sensationalist front-page headlines have focused on the links between the Zika virus and microcephaly, sexual transmission, and the coming pandemic.
Or, as Wilson Roberto Vieira Ferreira explains, the media have once again manipulated the themes of birth, sex, and death—”the most striking (and socially disciplined) features of human existence.”
What is missing from the story is, of course, inequality. According to Reuters,
Decades of rapid and chaotic urbanization in the nation of 205 million people have left many impoverished areas without basic sanitation, putting the poor at far greater risk of contracting Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses.
Some 35 million Brazilians have no running water, over 100 million have no access to sewage, and more than 8 million city dwellers live in areas that lack regular garbage services, according to the most recent census in 2010.
Last year, some 1.6 million cases of the dengue virus were reported, the most since records began in 1990. The virus, spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito as Zika, kills hundreds annually.
“The only thing that is going to break the cycle of epidemics will be a sharp increase in the investment and construction of infrastructure that provides basic sanitation,” said Dr. Vera Magalhaes, professor of tropical medicine at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, where she has spent three decades studying dengue and now Zika.
“Until that happens, we’ll live with this contrast in Brazil, where the rich have first-world sanitation and the poor live in the most precarious conditions imaginable, making them by far the most vulnerable to these illnesses.”