Spread of Zika raises issues of poverty, women’s rights

The alarming spread of Zika is as much about the poverty and powerlessness faced by women in Latin America, where the virus is rampant, as it is an issue about health, says Alicia Yamin, lecturer on law and global health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In an article for the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, for which she is policy director, Yamin noted that the mosquitoes that transmit Zika, which also spread other diseases, breed in stagnant water and are mostly found where the poor lack adequate plumbing and sanitation.

In addition, because transmission of Zika from mother to child appears to be linked with microcephaly—a birth defect that causes small heads and underdeveloped brains—health ministers across Latin America have responded by advising women not to get pregnant. Yet in many of these countries, abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world, and poor women and girls lack access to sexual education and contraception.

As Zika shows, women are the ones who will face “the greatest consequences of the impacts of the lack of public health measures, inadequate social protection, and discriminatory laws and, to boot, may be blamed for ‘getting themselves pregnant,’ ” Yamin wrote.

Read Yamin’s article: Health, Human Rights and the Zika virus