Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In Belize, restrictive reproductive governance and an increasingly neoliberal model of healthcare are negatively impacting epidemiology and family planning in relation to the Zika virus. In response to a 2016-2017 outbreak, the Belizean government implemented a public health management strategy that promoted discourses of personal responsibility by urging individuals to limit infections by eliminating mosquito breeding risk factors including standing water and litter. Additionally, women were asked to postpone pregnancy for an unspecified amount of time due to potential congenital Zika complications, which is especially problematic given Zika’s endemic status in regions of the country. This neoliberal framework likewise extends to epidemiological surveillance, as the government only offers free Zika testing for pregnant women seeking this service. Zika testing is not available for many communities which puts additional costs on a supposedly free service, as individuals assess the financial burden of taking time from work and the cost of medical travel. Compounding this issue, Belize has severely restrictive abortion laws and there are no special concessions in which to seek abortion after positive Zika diagnosis. Based on mixed-methods ethnographic fieldwork conducted primarily in 2017 at an endemic Zika transmission site, I examine how limited state interventions place the onus of responsibility on women for Zika monitoring and care while the Belizean government attempts to shape behavior through health policy and discourses, creating a gendered burden of Zika in the process. I further consider how critical and applied anthropological paradigms may be synthesized to better inform health policy and intervention efforts.