Petition Seeks to Protect Zika-Affected Women and Families

More than six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern, two Brazilian organizations have filed a petition with the country’s Supreme Court demanding, as a matter of Constitutional rights, that the government expand health services and social supports for women, families, and children affected by the Zika epidemic.

The filing, which includes a statement in support of the petition from the Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP) at Yale University, marks an important milestone in the ongoing advocacy to ensure a rights-based, effective health response to the Zika epidemic. The petition was filed by Anis-Institute of Bioethics (Anis), a Brazilian feminist non-government organization, and the Brazilian National Association of Public Defenders (ANADEP), on Wednesday, August 24, 2016.

In preparation for filing, Anis and ANADEP invited the Global Health Justice Partnership to submit a statement in support of the petition. GHJP, a partnership of Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health, submitted its “parecer” or expert’s addendum on Brazil’s constitutional and international human rights obligations to ensure that Zika-affected women have access to comprehensive reproductive health information and services, including safe abortion. The parecer argues that the government’s current Zika protocol: “ignores the complex realities associated with women’s reproductive decisions. It does not account for the practical challenges that many individuals, particularly poor women, face in obtaining and using contraception, nor does it make any mention of abortion, legally available or otherwise. To advance public health and human rights, the protocol must be rooted in women’s lived experiences, rather than merely in theoretical solutions.”

The parecer was prepared by a group of law and public health students as part of the Global Health Justice Practicum, a clinic course that is offered each spring and is open to all professional and graduate students at Yale. To prepare the parecer, students analyzed the Brazilian Ministry of Health’s current policies and efforts related to Zika and reviewed Brazil’s national and international human rights obligations. They also consulted closely with researchers and advocates in Brazil and internationally. Clinical Fellow Christine Ricardo provided supervison through the process. 

Although the Zika virus was first identified in humans in 1952, it was only during the recent outbreak in Brazil that the association with reproductive outcomes, such as microcephaly and other neurological complications was identified. The virus has since spread to 69 countries and territories and has galvanized discussions about women’s rights and government responsibility in the face of reproductive health crisis.

“As Zika makes its way across countries, it's of the utmost importance that all governments, including our own, adopt a human rights framework to address Zika—and reproductive health care in general,” said Camila Vega ‘18, a law student and one of the authors of the parecer. “It was a privilege to work with the Global Health Justice Clinic on a statement that will hopefully help improve health care access for at least some women. I hope it can serve as a model not only for Brazil, but for other countries facing reproductive health crises.”

The parecer is available in English and Portuguese.  

In June, GHJP clinic students and Brazilian partners published an article about the need for a rights-based health sector response to Zika in Cadernos de Saúde Pública, a Brazilian public health journal.

The Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), hosted by Yale Law School and Yale School of Public Health, was established in 2012 to promote interdisciplinary, innovative, and effective responses to global health disparities. It is a transformative collaboration that integrates different fields in order to make critical policy interventions. Building on Yale's institutional assets, the GHJP trains students in law, public health, global affairs, and other fields to undertake collaborative, real-world research and advocacy to promote health justice. It also organizes path-breaking conferences and events, builds partnerships with local NGOs around the world to move research into action, and nurtures a truly interdisciplinary brain trust dedicated to effecting social change.

All of GHJP's research and advocacy work related to the Zika crisis has been made possible by the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights.