Living in the epicenter of Zika

It’s Friday afternoon. After a long day of work I find myself walking in the streets of Paulista Avenue, eager to get back home.

Paulista is the economic heart of São Paulo, Brazil. Here you can find all sorts of wealthy buildings, cars and people that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. It’s rush hour – the streets are busy, the traffic is jammed and the subway is crowded.

I go down the stairs and pay my ticket, the train comes and I get in. Tired, I put in my earphones – but before the music starts, I notice a woman to my far right. Her eyes are mildly red, her skin seems pale, and she checks her forehead frequently, as if she’s having a headache.

The symptoms point to Zika. Zika is a virus which, like this woman, is just around the corner – maybe even closer. Only 1 out of 5 people infected with the virus show symptoms. For all I know, the whole train could be infected, myself included.

The longer I stay in the train, the more the surroundings change. The wealthy buildings slowly turn into slums in the distance.

Neglected tropical diseases mostly affect the poorest countries. Within these countries, the less privileged are more affected than anybody else. Lacking the proper sanitation and with limited access to health services, I fear that Zika will bring misery in its full spectrum to Brazil: suffering, injustice and even death. People who are already poor will feel this the most.

The lady checks her forehead once again, and I ask her if she is okay. She replies in a friendly tone and with a smile on her face. “It’s nothing, thank you for asking.” At that moment I realize that not all is lost. Even if our reality is dire, there is hope for the world behind her smile.

I step out of the train and get home. Watching the news I am surprised how the main topics covered are anything but the Zika outbreak. I decide to write something about it.

It is a long night and my brain can’t stop thinking. The number of Zika cases are staggering –I’m getting anxious. What might be most disturbing is that we have no choice but to carry on with our lives as if nothing is happening. It feels awful to know that we don’t have a choice. All we can do is hope for the best.

Ultimately, health transcends society and time. It hurts me to think that Zika and other neglected tropical diseases will negatively affect the lives of so many  innocent people – simple, humble, ordinary people, just like you and me.

The sooner we act, the more lives we will save – we learned that the hard way. Whatever the next epidemic will be and wherever it will occur, we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late. The world has to unite to resolve epidemics of any kind, as the struggle for health is a struggle for the right to live.

Andrew Dadario is a blogger for UNICEF’s Voices of Youth. He is a passionate learner and social worker, and founder of university-based NGO Unesp Social in his struggle for a better world. You can read his full profile and other posts here.

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