Growing concern about the Zika Virus may seem like a strange topic for this blog. In recent years, China has of course had a variety of viral epidemics. However, the knee-jerk response of several South American countries raises an unfortunate reminder of parallel histories of forced population control in the two regions. China famously used doomsday models to justify its one-child policy (Greenhalgh 2005), and forced sterilizations were all too common thoughout South America, for example, in Peru.
At present, El Salvador, due to perceived risks from Zika, has begun to urge woman to refrain from getting pregnant until 2018. In a characteristically heavy-handed response, Brazil has deployed its military to “spread awareness” of Zika in the lead up to Carnival. Though there is not yet a vaccine, Zika has a very low mortality rate. While evidence suggests that the virus may be the cause of an uptick in birth defects, the correlation remains unverified. Thus, given the dark history of forced population control in the region, it seems reasonable to suspect that Zika is just another in the long list of justifications for targeting poor, rural groups – where Zika-infected mosquitoes are likely more prevalent.
While based in historical precedent, this theory is not meant to be a conclusive assessment of the current situation in South America, of which I am by no means an expert. This is merely a caveat from a China scholar to the experts who must now assess the broad implications of the Zika outbreak.