Spread of Zika Virus Underscores Class and Gender Issues

Alaka Basu, professor of development sociology at Cornell University and senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, says Zika underscores the lethal intersection of class and gender in public health tragedies.

Basu, an expert in the areas of reproductive health and family planning, gender and development, and child health and mortality, is particularly interested in the social and cultural dynamics that constrain people’s reproductive choices at certain times, but can just as radically force changes in these choices.

“If the spread of the Zika virus does indeed reach epidemic levels, its impact will underscore once more the lethal intersection of class and gender in public health tragedies," Basu says. "The poor always suffer disproportionately when new forms of disease strike; when poverty is also combined with other kinds of social marginalization, such as gender – or, for instance, sexual minority status in the case of HIV/AIDS – the assault is usually greater than the sum of its parts.

“In this case, poverty increases the probability of exposure to the Zika virus-carrying mosquito – standing water being a universal feature of poor neighborhoods, whether because it tends to collect easily in the numerous inadvertent receptacles that dot such neighborhoods or because the poor more often need to consciously store water for domestic use – and being female increases the possibility that the outcome will be more devastating than the rash or fever or conjunctivitis that typically describes the infection," she says. “The potential epidemic also underscores the narrow ways in which we tend to describe reproductive health even when we think we are broadening our definition to include much more than contraceptive access. Assured reproductive health means not just the ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies; it also means the right to go through a healthy pregnancy and a delivery that results in a healthy birth. To all the hazards of pregnancy and delivery that poor women worldwide experience, we now need to factor in one more.

Basu adds, “If this virus spreads to other parts of the developing world, then the further deterioration of already severely compromised reproductive health is inevitable. But there does not as of yet seem to be any sense of alertness to this possibility in countries far from the epicenter of the current crisis.”

Further thoughts can be found at her post on the United Nations Foundation’s blog: http://unfoundationblog.org/zika-poverty-and-reproductive-health/

Source: Cornell University