When 18-year-old Ianka Barbosa was 7 months pregnant, an ultrasound showed the baby had an abnormally small head, a dreaded sign of microcephaly due to Zika infection. Upon hearing the news, Ianka’s husband fled. In her poor neighborhood of Campina Grande, Brazil, Ianka soon became a young mother alone.
As Ianka’s baby Sophia grows, she may never walk, or talk. She could develop seizures before she reaches six months. By the end of the year there may be a staggering 3,000 Sophias in Brazil – mostly in the poorest places.
Epidemics erase the gains women have achieved.
The world has suffered a series of “Zikas”—virtually unknown diseases that seemed to come from nowhere and explode with devastating consequences for families and entire countries – before Zika, Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and others.
Epidemics don’t just leave behind a death toll. They can demolish the gains women have made in maternal, newborn, child, adolescent, and reproductive health—gains that have been propelled by women’s rights and empowerment.