Brazil’s Battle Against Zika

9 Jan 2017 2016 OUTDOOR

Governments and health care providers around the world are struggling to contain Zika, a mosquito-borne disease that’s nearly impossible to control. Photographer Tomás Munita captured the struggle in the favelas of Brazil, stricken by a massive outbreak.

Featuring: Tomás Munita

Presented by

National Geographic

Curated by

Mallory Benedict, Associate Photo Editor


Threatening new viruses emerge abruptly in our modern world, provoking stark headlines and demands for bold government action—but in most cases the origins are complex and go unnoticed as they furtively develop over several years. This holds true for Zika, a mysterious virus spread by disease-carrying mosquitos and sexual contact. Ground zero for Zika’s most recent outburst was the poor, sprawling favelas in northeastern Brazil, where the Aedes aegypti mosquito flourished amid the abundant litter, standing water, clogged drains, and flimsy dwellings commonly found in these vulnerable communities.

Zika’s typical symptoms are relatively unremarkable, often hindering its detection. Its most feared consequence is a condition called microcephaly, in which a baby is born with severe brain malformations that can lead to physical and mental handicaps. Declared a public health emergency in February 2016 by the World Health Organization, Zika’s origins remain unclear, and without a vaccine or tangible control methods to prevent its spread, this resilient virus may not be eradicated any time soon.

Tomás Munita is an independent documentary photographer based in Chile whose main interests are social and environmental issues. This story was a two-part digital feature for National Geographic in February 2016.


Tomás Munita is a Chilean documentary photographer primarily interested in social issues. His work focuses on exploring ritual, culture, and crisis in places such as Latin America, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. He is known for his work covering the HIV epidemic, the Kashmir earthquake, conflict in Kabul, the plight of the Rohingya people, and, recently, cowboys in Patagonia and Zika for National Geographic. Munita holds a number of awards, including an ICP Young Photographer Infinity Award in 2005, two World Press Photo awards, the 2006 Leica Oskar Barnack award, the Henri Nannen Preis in 2010, an All Roads photography award from National Geographic in 2010, and a Visa d’Or News award in 2012. Munita’s work regularly appears in major publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic, Geo, Time, Courrier International, and others.


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