“I’m very stunned and nervous…deep inside we always have some hope that the test will be negative,” said Amanda, a young woman from the outskirts of the town of Campina Grande in northeast Brazil. During her pregnancy, Amanda had been infected by the Zika virus, and her fetus presented signs of microcephaly, a serious neurological defect.
On Thursday, June 2, Friends of IWHC watched Zika, the incredibly moving documentary about Amanda and four other young Brazilian women and the health care professionals struggling to serve them.
Zika was produced by Debora Diniz, Vice-Chair of IWHC’s board of directors and co-founder of Anis: the Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender in Brazil. The film follows Dr. Adriana Melo— who first observed a connection between the mosquito-borne virus and microcephaly.
Beginning in 2015, Zika has spread in Brazil with devastating effect. Abortion is highly restricted in the country (even for women with Zika) and family planning is not accessible to everyone. As a result, women with Zika or at risk of it have very few options. “What we can offer you is this: to hold your hand, to hug you, and to look for answers so that other mothers don’t have to go through this,” said Dr. Melo to a patient in the film.
After seeing firsthand the care that Dr. Melo is providing, and hearing the heartbreaking stories of the women, audience members engaged in an informative discussion with IWHC’s President Françoise Girard and Senior Program Officer Jessie Clyde.
Jessie noted the kinship she felt with the young women in the film: “It brought back memories of my own pregnancy. Getting the ultrasounds, you’re lying there on this table in a very vulnerable position. You’re studying the doctor’s face, wanting all the information you can get and hoping for good news.” She continued, “But, that was in New York and not in the middle of a Zika epidemic.”
Françoise and Jessie discussed the Brazilian’s government’s weak response to the crisis and its disregard for women’s reproductive rights. “Every woman should have the right to an abortion, should she want it,” said Françoise.
Contraceptives are also hard to come by in the northeast of Brazil, and certain methods, like intra-uterine devices or implants, are simply unavailable. “Women are being told by their government ‘not to get pregnant,’” noted Jessie. “But when they go to their local clinic, more times than not, the contraceptives are not stocked, and they are treated poorly by health providers. It’s a stigmatizing environment.”
Through its Zika fund, IWHC is supporting local groups such as Grupo Curumim to improve the quality of health care that women receive, to expand their access to contraceptives, and to change Brazil’s policy on abortion. These organizations are responding to a lack of basic knowledge about the virus and how to prevent and deal with it. “Women still do not have enough information and have been turning to local women’s groups to find out what they should be doing,” said Françoise.
These local organizations are filling in where the government has failed. “Women are facing difficult decisions about whether to continue their pregnancy or terminate it,” said Jessie. “The role of the state is to provide services and care and support them in that decision. They are not doing this.”
To learn more about the Zika virus:
Watch this Google Hangout on Air from June 13, 2016, where IWHC President Françoise Girard and Debora Diniz, Co-Founder of Anis: Institute for Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender, talk about the impact of the Zika virus in Brazil. They discuss the government’s inadequate response to the epidemic, the areas hardest hit by the virus, and the consequences of Zika on women’s reproductive health. They also discuss what people can do to protect themselves, and what they can do to help those impacted by Zika.