A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention connects the spreading Zika virus to a significant increase in birth defects in Brazil. According to the study, birth defects involving the nervous system nearly doubled after Zika arrived in Brazil, and researchers linked the virus' spread to poverty and living conditions in Northeast Brazil. Brazil is currently in the deepest recession of its history and its debt grew 33% in the past 5 years relative to the size of its economy.
"Because of the poverty, we have a more closely packed population and sanitary conditions are worse [in Northeast Brazil where the virus is most prevalent]," Zika researcher Dr. Jamary Oliveira Filho told CNN. "It's the perfect setup for epidemic to occur, where there's already inadequate social conditions." The study noted malnutrition and contaminated drinking water could additionally encourage the virus to spread.
Brazil, the 9th largest economy in the world, is struggling to fund government services as its debt grows. More than 20% of its population lives below the poverty line and the ratings agency Moody's downgraded Brazilian bonds to "junk" status in 2016. In Puerto Rico, over 15,000 residents have tested positive for the Zika virus while the government cuts health care spending amidst a growing debt crisis.
"Brazil's economy is at a critical juncture," stated LeCompte, who serves on UN expert working groups on debt. "Brazil's debt could prevent economic recovery and the consequences could be dire for its people."
Read the report: "Increased Hospitalizations for Neuropathies as Indicators of Zika Virus Infection"
Read more about debt relief for Ebola-impacted countries
Read a timeline of Puerto Rico's debt crisis