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IU School of Public Health professor awarded grant to study reproductive health under threat of Zika

July 13, 2016

With support from a new grant from the National Science Foundation, Indiana University assistant professor Lucia Guerra-Reyes is studying how people make decisions about pregnancy and contraception in communities under the threat of Zika.

lucia guerra-reyes

Lucia Guerra-Reyes’ previous research has also focused on Peru, addressing health inequality, particularly the effects of cultural diversity and the understandings of culture on health care provision. | PHOTO BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

Guerra-Reyes, an assistant professor of applied health science at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, is researching how men and women in Zika-threatened communities negotiate reproductive health decisions in the face of inequality, limited resources, poor information and disparate health access. The study, titled "RAPID: Understanding Emergent Responses and Decision-Making Under the Threat of Zika," is funded by a $25,000 grant from the NSF’s Rapid Response Research program, which is designed to provide support for research topics of “severe urgency.” 

“This study focuses on understanding how gender negotiations may affect the spread of the virus,” Guerra-Reyes said. “It will produce information that will allow a better tailoring of preventive messages.” 

The Zika virus, which is transmitted through the Dengue mosquito, or Aedes aegypti, and the tiger mosquito, orAedes albopictus, was first identified 50 years ago. The virus arrived in Brazil in 2015 and has spread to 33 countries and territories in the Americas. It has been linked to microcephaly and other fetal abnormalities and was found to also be transmittable through sexual intercourse. In February 2016, the World Health Organization declared Zika a global public health emergency. 

Guerra-Reyes will conduct her research through focus groups and in-depth interviews with men and women in Iquitos, Peru, the largest metropolis in the Peruvian Amazon and the sixth most populous city in Peru. She traveled to Peru on June 2 and will work there through Aug. 8. There is currently no active Zika spread in Iquitos. However, the town is on a river floodplain, has a history of dengue mortality and is a high-risk area for mosquito-borne infections.

“This region has one of the highest fertility rates in the country and poor access to health care overall,” Guerra-Reyes said.

Among urban-poor women in Latin America, Guerra-Reyes said, the Zika virus has shown gross inequalities in access to reproductive health information, contraception, sexual education and safe abortion care. She said that official responses advocating for abstinence and to delay pregnancy have placed the burden for prevention on women. 

The NSF-funded project will aim to understand the changing cultural patterns to reproductive decisions under the threat of the Zika virus before the virus spreads. Guerra-Reyes and colleague Ruth Iguiñiz-Romero, from the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia School of Public Health, will focus on the population’s reproductive health beliefs, reproductive decision-making and local perceptions of government responsibility, and how they might change in the wake of the Zika virus. The study will also explore gender roles before the spread of the Zika virus in Peru.

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