The Zika epidemic caused serious concerns about fetal health throughout Latin America and some southern states in the United States. The prevailing governmental response throughout the region continues to emphasize two disease control factors: pregnancy delay and mosquito abatement. This essay argues that the current health policy approach of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and various national governments fails in three primary ways. First, the approach does not adequately consider the intersection of gender and poverty; thus, the current policy fails to respond to the needs of women living in poverty. Second, the health policy response fails to consider the impact of gender-based violence in its efforts to control the epidemic. The recommendation to delay pregnancy, for example, fails to account for the widespread incidence of intimate partner violence in the region. A high rate of sexual violence in intimate partnerships makes the policy less effective, because some women will be impregnated as a direct result of intimate partner violence and others will be unable to negotiate for safe sex for the same reason. Third, the policy response fails to address the broader question of access to contraception and abortion in the region. Two decades of research concerning the connections between gender and HIV/AIDS transmission have taught policymakers a great deal about the need to carefully consider gender in the design and implementation of a public health response. Those lessons, however, have not translated to the Zika context and, unfortunately, the myopic public health response will leave women and their children increasingly vulnerable to Zika infection.
June 7, 2017