I get a lot of questions from people in the States about how people here in Brazil are dealing with all the Zika craziness. Americans are absolutely freaking out about the problem. And Brazilians? My answer always is: “They shrug.”
It’s true. Ask any average Brazilian their opinion about Zika, and they’ll lift their shoulders and sigh. Zika is transmitted by the same bug that transmits dengue and they’ve been battling dengue for DECADES with little success. It’s a symptom of a broken health system. Brazil is in the international spotlight, and it’s not flattering and they’re embarrassed.
Dengue and Zika are here
Brazilians just don’t react much to the issue. I honestly have had more conversations about Zika with Americans (who have just had their first microencephaly case just recently) than with Brazilians (who have had hundreds, if not thousands of cases). This is not to say it’s not a problem. Even here in our little town in Minas Gerais, dengue is a problem. My mother-in-law was treated for it, as was a co-worker. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens. And if dengue is here, then Zika could be and also Chikungunya.
So why no reaction?
Some of this is just the Brazilian toujours gai attitude about life. Always cheerful, nothing’s ever a huge problem, smile and give ’em a thumbs up even when the world is about crash down around your ears.
Some of it is the tragedy of the commons–because the best way to stop the transmission of Zika and dengue is to eliminate all the places the mosquitos can breed which means everyone cleaning up all that trash that Brazilians have been tossing out their windows for ages (the mosquitos can breed in pools of water as small as a soda bottle cap) and screening in houses that just were never built to be airtight. A friend of mine gave us a honorable mention in an article about the problem. We’re the only house in town with window screens, and that’s because I imported kits from Home Depot in the States (thanks mom!).
Solving the transmission is a massive public health undertaking and depends on each person doing their part. Which brings us back to part #1 of the problem–convincing the public that there’s a crisis that requires individual action. Which generally is tough to get Brazilians to do.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
So imagine my surprise when I saw this public health campaign poster yesterday in the neighboring town of Novo Cruzeiro. Translation: “Free Novo Cruziero from the Chikungunya and Zika viruses–How many people will have to die for you to CLEAN UP YOUR YARD?”
Because DAMN. Someone in the public health office isn’t playing nice anymore.