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New Brazil Study Finds Shocking Racial Discrepancy In Zika Cases

A new Brazilian report shows that far more babies born with microcephaly and other conditions linked to the Zika virus are black or mixed race. There are troubling explanations for this fact, including access to (illegal) abortion.

Mother and her baby born with microcephaly in Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Brazil
Mother and her baby born with microcephaly in Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Brazil
Fabiano Maisonnave

MANAUS — New figures published by the Brazilian Health Ministry show that eight out of ten babies born with microcephaly and other cortical alterations linked to the Zika virus are born from mothers who are black or mixed-race.

In Brazil's northeastern region, where the number of reported cases is the highest in the country, the proportion even reaches 93.9% in the state of Ceará, even though black and mixed-race women there represent 66.4% of the female population. Nationally, they make up for 49.9% of women.

Jurema Werneck, a black doctor and activist for NGO Criola, which fights for the rights of black women in Brazil, says that the figures "unfortunately aren't unexpected."

Werneck adds that "lurking behind the proliferation of Zika-infected mosquitos is an environmental tragedy. The lack of sanitation, of proper garbage pick-up, of access to a clean water network affect black communities."

The doctor says that racial inequality between black and white women is also reflected in their access to abortion which, despite being illegal (except if the woman's life is in danger or if the pregnancy is the result of a rape), is more easily accessible and safer for the predominantly white middle class. "The government says: You can't abort. But it also says that your children are your responsibility."

Information and race

Werneck also criticizes failures in the data's collection and disclosure. "When the government doesn't say that black women are suffering more, it refuses to take responsibility and to take measures directed specifically at this group. It makes some generic statement and can continue to publicly say that we need to eradicate this mosquito while continuing to ignore these women. This is pure racism."

Anthropologist Debora Diniz, whose research at the University of Brasilia focuses on the Zika virus, states that the figures indicate that even among poor women in the northeastern region, it is black women who proportionately bear the brunt of the epidemic.

Diniz, who wrote a book on the virus (Zika: do Sertão Nordestino à Ameaça Global — "Zika, from the Northeastern Hinterland to Global Threat") says that the high number of malformations linked to Zika among black families will only contribute in widening the inequality gap between communities.

Diniz says families struck by diseases linked to the virus require extra support from the state. "You're forcing women to take responsibility for the whole care." As a result, many mothers have had to abandon their jobs to take care of their children full time which, according to Diniz, makes these families' situations even more precarious.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

BDS And Us: Gaza's Toll Multiplies Boycotts Of Israel And Its Allies — Seinfeld Included

In Egypt and elsewhere in the region and the world, families and movements are mobilizing against companies that support Israel's war on Gaza. The power of the people lies in their control as consumers — and the list of companies and brands to boycott grows longer.

A campaign poster with the photo of a burger with blood coming out of it with text reading "You Kill" and the Burger King logo

A campaign poster to boycott Burger King in Bangkok, Malü

Matt Hunt/ZUMA
Mohammed Hamama

CAIRO — Ali Al-Din’s logic is simple and straightforward: “If you buy a can (of soda), you'll get the bullet too...”

Those bullets are the ones killing the children of Gaza every day, and the can he refuses to buy is “kanzaya” – the popular Egyptian soft drink. It is just one of a long list of products he had the habit of consuming. Ali is nine years old.

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The clarity and simplicity of this logic has pushed Ali Al-Din to boycott all the products on the lists people are circulating of companies that have supported Israel since the attacks on Gaza began in October. His mother, Heba, points out that her son took responsibility for overseeing the boycott in their home.

A few days ago, he saw a can of “Pyrosol” insecticide, but he thought it was one of the products of the “Raid” company that was on the boycott’s lists. He warned his mother that this product was on the boycott list, but she explained that the two products were different. Ali al-Din and his younger brother also abstained from eating any food from McDonald's. “They love McDonald’s very much,” his mother says. “But they refuse.”

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