The trials of being pregnant during a Zika outbreak

Published: 16 March 2016 15:36 CET

By Miguel Domingo García, IFRC/Spanish Red Cross

On the streets of Villa Mater II, the bottles are stacked in neat rows, creating a kind of wall made of round lenses. They will go to be recycled. That seems the future of this community known as the ‘favela of the dump’ which for 20 years has existed in the neighborhood of Jacarecica city of Maceió, Alagoas, northeast of Brazil.

250 families live here, where the rubbish of Alagoas capital has been spewed out for years. The garbage has been disappearing gradually, but there are still corners with junk piled up. However, the biggest problem of the community is what it lacks: sanitation or basic services.

In a huge vacant lot in the community, the boys play ball. Irmeide Custodio watches them play as she caresses her belly. In three months her child will be born. "I have not decided what the baby will be called if she is a girl. But if he’s a boy, my mother wants him to be named Everton, but will be called Everton Miguel," she says.

She is happy, but recognizes that 17 is very young to leave her family and become a mother. She is living with the father of her baby, in a modest house.

The cooler is empty; she walks barefoot, but at least has a mosquito repellent that she uses in small doses in arms and legs. "I know little about Zika virus. I heard something about it on television", she says, but the information was limited. "I heard on television that babies can be born with smaller head than normal." She is not sure of the words. She also claims to know some steps to prevent the proliferation of Aedes aegypti, the primary transmitter of the virus. "I know that I have to use insect repellent, to wear warm clothing, not keeping stagnant water. And other things," she says.

However, the house where she lives is full of potential breeding sites: a bucket full water poorly covered, bottles placed in a corner and a some pails in the back of the house.

A volunteer from the Brazilian Red Cross take both expectant parent through measures that that can take to reduce the risk of mosquitos breeding in their home: cleaning roof gutters and making sure that they are inclined, to not accumulate water; covering buckets and cleaning them at least once a week; turning over bottles, glasses and vessels, and disposing of stagnant water. This last is a challenge as Vila Emeter II is full of streams, pools of stagnant water and mountains of junk.

"There are neighbors who do things to prevent mosquitoes breeding in their homes, but generally no action is taken; because all around is full of garbage," says Jadna Santos da Silva, president of the Association of Residents of Vila Emater II. In addition, many families can’t afford repellents or mosquito nets: "There are many people who consider it expensive - and so most people don’t buy it." The situation means many people fall ill. In fact, da Silva has been ill too. "Many people are worried, especially families with pregnant women or children," she says.

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