Nearly three years after a Zika outbreak in Brazil caused thousands of cases of microcephaly and other devastating birth defects in newborns, Reuters returned to check on the mothers and their children.
Zika, the first mosquito-borne virus known to damage developing fetuses, has since disappeared from headlines, but world health officials fear its spread to new populations. In Angola, dozens of babies born with microcephaly since 2017 appear linked to the same strain of Zika that hit Latin America.
Left: Rosana Vieira Alves holds her four-month-old daughter Luana Vieira who was born with microcephaly. Right: Rosana Vieira Alves, 28, smiles with her daughter two-year-old Luana.
In northeastern Brazil, we spoke with nearly 30 mothers who contracted the Zika virus during pregnancy. Most of them have been abandoned by their husbands and must care for their children alone.
Many of the women have largely adjusted to the initial shock of their child's disability, trading dreams of their own careers for the reality of around-the-clock care of a child who may never walk or talk.
Many struggle to get by on a monthly disability check of just over 954 reais (roughly $250), which must cover shelter, food, medications and transportation to frequent doctor visits.
Some seek comfort among mothers whose children share the same affliction. Others expressed gratitude for family members or friends who offer a break from the daily grind. Many confessed to despair and depression, and some considered suicide. But they share a fierce love for their children and a hope for a better life.
Four of them provided us a glimpse of their daily life in simple homes on the outskirts of Recife and Olinda, two cities in the state of Pernambuco.
Left: Gleyse embraces Maria Giovanna. Right: Maria Giovanna, two years old, sits at her home.
Gleyse Kelly da Silva, 28, has help from her husband and mother in caring for three-year-old Maria Giovanna "Gigi" da Silva. But the burden is still great, and she was forced to leave her job as a toll attendant.
After Gigi was born, there were many consultations with medical teams trying to understand the full implications of Zika. Those visits are less frequent, but Gigi's medical challenges are significant.
Left: Jackeline, 26, holds four-month-old Daniel. Right: Jackeline, 28, stands by as Daniel, two years old, reacts to stimulus during an evaluation session with a physiotherapist at the Association of Parents and Friends of the Exceptional.
A few years ago, Jackeline Vieira de Souza, 28, of Olinda, fought to overcome a very rare complication from an earlier pregnancy, and then survived cancer.
Rosana Vieira Alves, 28, has three daughters, but nearly all of her attention goes to her youngest, Luana Vieira da Silva, age three.
"It's hard to manage the girls. Some of them are jealous, but Luana needs more care. In time, they'll understand."
The demands have taken Rosana to some dark places, and she confesses that she has considered suicide. But she still dreams of a better future, and hopes to get a degree in accounting or civil engineering.