Maybe you’ve heard of the Zika virus, maybe you haven’t. Prominent in South America, this virus is spread by infected mosquitos, especially in favelas or slums where the mosquitos thrive in puddles that are in litter or even bottle caps – things on the streets that are always ignored, and difficult to do much about. When the specific breed of mosquitos, the Aedes aegypti, infect women, there is an alarming connection to these infected women’s children being born with microcephaly. This is a condition where the circumference of the head is smaller than average, because the brain has either not developed properly or actually stopped growing. It is associated with Down’s syndrome and chromosomal and neurometabolic syndromes, and there is no treatment for this condition.
The disease is transmitted with an Aedes mosquito bites an individual with an active Zika infection. This mosquito then becomes a carrier of Zika, and spreads it to other individuals that it bites. Most symptoms of Zika are mild, and 80% of infected people never even know they have the disease. This is extremely concerning for pregnant women, however, because they could be passing on Zika to their baby without knowing.
The virus has been transmitted in Latin and South America, excluding a few countries such as Chile and Argentina – where the Aedes mosquitos do not live. In Brazil, the government is taking action to slow and hopefully halt the spread of the Zika virus. They are fumigating streets, and lacing water tanks with larvicide to prevent the breeding of more Zika-infected mosquitos. However, it is difficult. The virus is effecting the impoverished and marginalized people of South America, and is present in many more countries than Brazil.
Tomás Munita, a Chilean Natural Geographic photographer, documented the impoverished communities were Zika has struck in the favelas of Recife, Brazil (see work & article here). He discusses the struggles of capturing a situation where the main ‘character’ – the mosquito – is nearly invisible. However, instead of capturing the subject, he captures the effected – babies born with microcephaly, and their families, as well as the impoverished streets of Brazil’s favelas, where the Aedes mosquito thrives.
What Munita documents is moving, especially because it is upsetting and hard to look at. Seeing month old babies with physical deformities, knowing that their brain isn’t developing and that they might die is heartbreaking, upsetting, and uncomfortable. This work shines light on groups of people who are marginalized, and suffer extremely. His images show on the consequences of poverty, and an issue that is affecting entire populations. Some babies with microcephaly have epilepsy attacks, trouble falling asleep, and cry constantly. Other ones are almost normal, however all families had different reasons to take their babies to the hospital daily, which has significant impacts on mental health and jobs of the parents. Munita images tell a story of suffering, of exhaustion, and of resignation. Munita said, “even though Zika is in the news all the time, for many it was just one more disease they could get”.