Brazil's mothers left to raise microcephaly babies alone

Fri Mar 11, 2016 2:43pm EST
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By Stephen Eisenhammer

CAMPINA GRANDE, Brazil (Reuters) - Ianka Barbosa was 7 months pregnant when she found out her child had microcephaly. Before the baby was even born, the father had gone.

Barbosa, 18, blames the break-up on her baby's abnormally small head and brain damage that doctors link to the Zika virus she contracted during pregnancy.

"I think, for him, it was my fault the baby has microcephaly," said Barbosa, wearing a blue dress and cradling tiny two-week old Sophia in a cramped bare brick house where she now lives with her parents in Brazil's northeast.

"When I most needed his help, he left me."

The house, which overlooks a polluted stream on the edge of a poor neighborhood, is now home to a family of nine. Only Barbosa's father has a job doing occasional building work.

Her ex-partner, Thersio, says he does not see Sophia, but avoids discussing microcephaly and blames Barbosa's parents for the break-up. "I gave her the choice, are you your parents' woman or mine ... And she chose her parents."

Single parents are common in Brazil where some studies show as many as 1 in 3 children from poor families grow up without their biological father, but doctors on the frontline of the Zika outbreak say they are concerned about how many mothers of babies with microcephaly are being abandoned.

With the health service already under strain, abortion prohibited, and the virus hitting the poorest hardest, an absent father is yet another burden on mothers already struggling to cope with raising a child that might never walk or talk.   Continued...

Ianka Mikaelle Barbosa, 18, poses for a photograph with Sophia, 18 days old, who is her second child and was born with microcephaly, at her house in Campina Grande, Brazil February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes