Description

The research project, “Vectors of Health” (working title), investigates technologies for controlling mosquito-borne diseases as a window into science and public health policies in Brazil. Amid economic recession and a tumultuous political process, Brazil has also been the epicenter of international concern for the emergence of mosquito-borne diseases.  Besides being the epicenter of the 2015-2016 Zika virus epidemic (associated with microcephaly and other health issues among fetuses and newborns), Brazil has in the last decades had recurrent outbreaks of dengue and, more recently, chikungunya. Brazil has declared a “war against the Aedes aegypti mosquito”, the vector transmitting these three diseases, with the motto “a mosquito is not stronger than an entire country”. There are no specific treatments for these diseases, all of which have serious health consequences and can be potentially fatal. Historically, health policies to address mosquito-borne diseases have focused primarily on eliminating the mosquito, through human behavioral reforms or the use of toxic chemicals to destroy breeding spots.

Drawing on more than eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, as well as interviews and archival research, Luísa investigated three new technoscientific strategies in Brazil that instead harness the A. aegypti itself in efforts to control the viruses this insect transmits: (1) in Rio de Janeiro, public health researchers release A. aegypti infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia that curtails the mosquito population’s capacity to transmit pathogens; (2) in Recife, researchers from a public university irradiate A. aegypti to render them sterile, dispatching these in the heavily touristed island of Fernando de Noronha; (3) in Foz do Iguaçu, public health officials trap and assay A. aegypti to employ them as indicators of impending outbreaks. Luísa argues that examining these three projects reveals not only different techniques for deploying mosquitoes but also illustrates the distinct kinds of articulations in the making between science and health, politics and anthropogenic effects, and Brazil and the rest of the world. This dissertation research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Social Science Research Council (SSRC), National Science Foundation (NSF), MIT Center for International Studies, MIT-Brazil Program, and MIT Martin Fellowship for Sustainability.

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