Zika epidemic response flawed, reports find

During Latin America’s recent epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which peaked in early 2016, women’s sexual and reproductive rights were often ignored by governments throughout the region, according to a new series of reports led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Released October 1, 2018, the reports looked at the response to Zika globally from a public health and human rights perspective, and also provided in-depth analyses of the response in Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador.

Because the Zika virus can be passed from mother to child and can result in severe developmental disabilities, many women wished to delay pregnancy during the epidemic. But the researchers found that Latin American governments did not include efforts to improve access to reproductive health services—which can be especially difficult to obtain by women who are poor or who live in remote areas—in their Zika response. The Brazilian government, for example, simply advised women to not get pregnant.

The researchers also found that while the governments invested in using pesticides to kill mosquitoes, little focus was given to improving water and sanitation infrastructure, which could have reduced mosquito breeding sites.

The reports recommended that the response to Zika epidemics in the future prioritize providing access to quality information about the virus, contraception and maternal health services, and services for children who become disabled as a result of their mothers’ contracting the virus during pregnancy.

Corey Prachniak-Rincón, MPH ’16, was lead researcher of the reports, and Ana Langer, professor of the practice of public health and director of the Women and Health Initiative, provided expertise and technical assistance. The reports were published in partnership with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Global Health Justice Partnership of Yale University.

Read the reports:

Centering Human Rights in the Response to Zika

Unheard Voices: Women’s Experiences with Zika in Brazil

Unheard Voices: Women’s Experiences with Zika in Colombia

Unheard Voices: Women’s Experiences with Zika in El Salvador

Learn more

Zika, Ebola offer lessons for managing future pandemics (Harvard Chan School news)

Zika epidemic in Brazil did not affect birth rates (Harvard Chan School news)