Brazil: Gaps in response to Zika virus outbreak

mum babyIn a recent Human Rights Watch report, the organization states that Brazil has not addressed longstanding human rights problems that allowed the Zika virus outbreak to escalate. As a result, the Zika threat in Brazil remains, even though the government declared an end to the national public health emergency related to the Zika virus in May 2017.

The 103-page report, Neglected and Unprotected: The Impact of the Zika Outbreak on Women and Girls in Northeastern Brazil, documents gaps in the Brazilian authorities’ response that have a harmful impact on women and girls and leave the general population vulnerable to continued outbreaks of serious mosquito-borne illnesses. For this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 183 people in Pernambuco and Paraíba, two of the northeastern states hardest hit by the virus, including 30 people who were raising children with Zika syndrome.  

Zika was declared a national public health emergency 1.5 years ago after increasing numbers of infants had been born with microcephaly (a condition in which the infant’s head is smaller than expected) and other potential health problems, together now known as Zika syndrome. But Aedes mosquitos are still present in Brazil, and still carry Zika and other serious viruses. Years of neglect has contributed to the water and wastewater conditions that allowed the proliferation of the Aedes mosquito and the rapid spread of the virus.

Investments in water & sanitation and health care

More than one-third of Brazil’s population lacks access to a continuous water supply, and millions do not have access to wastewater disposal. In Brazil’s northeast, less than 25 percent of the population was connected to a wastewater system in 2015, and only 32 percent of wastewater was treated.

"Brazilian authorities should make long overdue investments in water and sanitation infrastructure to control mosquito breeding and improve public health", Human Rights Watch states. "Authorities should also provide comprehensive reproductive health information and services for women and girls, decriminalize abortion, and ensure children with Zika syndrome have long-term access to services to give them the best possible quality of life."

Many pregnant women and girls interviewed said that during their prenatal appointments, public health workers did not provide comprehensive information about preventing Zika transmission. Many said health workers didn’t inform them that Zika could be transmitted sexually, partially due to conflicting or inconsistent information from authorities. As a result, few were consistently using condoms to protect themselves and their fetus from Zika transmission.

Source: News release at

Access the report Neglected and Unprotected: The Impact of the Zika Outbreak on Women and Girls in Northeastern Brazil, Human Rights Watch, July 2017

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