Addressing Disease Vectors with Sustainable Drainage Systems in Brazil: The Zika virus in Favelas

  • Rebecca Lewis

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research


    As a consequence of urbanisation nearly half of the world's rapidly growing population live in urban areas. The outbreak of Zika virus (ZIKV) in Brazil in August 2015, bought several issues
    to the forefront of the international health agenda; with researchers establishing cases of neonate microcephaly to be a direct result of maternal ZIKV infection during pregnancy in
    May 2016. The highest density of ZIKV infections and microcephaly cases were in the northeast and southeast, two of Brazil's most populated areas, which are typically associated
    with a high prevalence of informal settlements (favelas). These settlements lack suitable infrastructure for effective water management, sanitation and drainage, hence providing
    suitable breeding environments for the mosquito (Aedes aegypti) ZIKV vector.

    This research project aims to investigate the potential use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) as a method to reduce ZIKV transmission in favelas. Using a mixed-methods approach, both interviews and secondary quantitative data have been accessed to solicit an array of perspectives, including key external stakeholders working with favelas, and favela community
    members themselves. A series of maps illustrating the epidemiology of ZIKV and microcephaly related to the distribution of favelas have also been produced and discussed.
    Following analysis and discussion of the key research findings, contrary to the project’s initial hypothesis, a conclusive relationship between ZIKV and favelas cannot be established without further additional research. However, other issues were identified relating to housing density, data reporting inaccuracies and lack of adherence to Aedes aegypti prevention advice
    throughout formal and informal (favela) communities. Water and sanitation issues in favelas were also investigated, with findings associated with stormwater, greywater and sewage removal consistent with that of other scholars. Poor management provisions for water supply and solid waste were explicitly raised by participants illustrating the gaps in the current
    discourse relating to these areas.

    Finally, project findings were applied to two novel conceptual frameworks to further understanding and contribute to research in the areas related to the project. Framework (A), identifies the barriers and challenges specific to Rio de Janeiro associated with differences in ZIKV and microcephaly distribution throughout the city. Framework (A) proposes that lack of governance and financial investment are the main contributors to socioeconomic,
    environmental and health inequalities in Brazil’s cities. Secondly Framework (B), proposes that an integrated holistic approach is required to address the distribution of ZIKV and microcephaly. Findings demonstrated that isolated drainage interventions in favelas would be insufficient to reduce ZIKV transmission rates. Therefore, an approach across the whole urban environment is required, to increase public awareness of sanitation and environmental health, improve sanitation infrastructure and provide adequate systems for solid waste management.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University

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