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Report: Microcephaly Outbreak Blamed On Pesticide, Not Zika

A mother feeds her baby suffering from microcephaly while waiting for examination in Recife, Brazil, on Feb. 2, 2016.
A mother feeds her baby suffering from microcephaly while waiting for examination in Recife, Brazil, on Feb. 2, 2016.

PARIS — A report says the use of an anti-mosquito pesticide in drinking water could be the cause of the mass outbreak of microcephaly cases in newborns Latin America, and not the Zika virus, as the Brazilian government and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been saying.

French weekly magazine Paris Match cites a report published earlier this month by a team of Argentinean and Brazilian doctors that suggests the malformations appeared at the same time the Brazilian health ministry started using pyroproxyfen, a chemical poison applied to drinking water in the states that have since been hit hardest by microcephaly.

The pesticide is a growth inhibitor of mosquito larvae that generates malformations in developing mosquitoes and causes their death or incapacity. Recommended by the WHO to protect from dengue fever, it is manufactured by Sumimoto Chemical, a Japanese subsidiary of Monsanto. Mosquitoes contaminated by pyroproxyfene spread the poison themselves to other mosquitoes.

With 1.5 million people infected in just a few months, Brazil declared in November that the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus was to blame. But according to the team of researchers, led by Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a neonatal specialist who has previously denounced the affects of chemical products: "malformations detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added pyroproxyfen to drinking water is not a coincidence." The report also notes previous Zika outbreaks did not cause malformations in newborns.

The team instead accuses the government's chemical control strategy of contaminating the environment and the people, as well as failing to fight dengue fever and decrease the mosquito population. "This strategy is in fact a commercial maneuver from the chemical poisons industry, deeply integrated into Latin American ministries of health as well as WHO and PAHO Pan American Health Organization," the report says.

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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