At Large

Responding to the Zika virus

/ 12:28 AM February 12, 2016

In the event that the Zika virus, which belongs to the same family as the common dengue virus, makes its way to the Philippines, those facing the greatest risk will likely be pregnant women.

The UN Population Fund warns that while most of those who may be infected by the Zika virus will experience no symptoms or, if at all, present mild symptoms, the risk to pregnant women, especially in the early stages of pregnancy, can be extremely serious. The Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, which results in babies with abnormally small skulls and brains, and which is fatal.


Pregnant women and women of childbearing age who are not using modern contraceptive methods “should therefore take extra care to avoid exposure to mosquito bites, wear protective clothing, use insecticide-treated mosquito nets and apply insect repellents approved for use by pregnant women,” the UNFPA said.

But equally important is for authorities to take “intensified efforts” to ensure access to reproductive health services to all those at risk of Zika infection.


“Access to contraceptives, including condoms, will be a very important factor in mitigating the potential impact of the Zika virus should it spread in the Philippines,” UNFPA country representative Klaus Beck said, adding: “As many poor women cannot afford the cost of contraceptives, this will need to be urgently addressed by the provision of contraceptives as guaranteed under the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law.”

The developing Zika situation serves to underline the importance that all women who are pregnant should seek prenatal care to receive information and monitoring of their pregnancy and to follow their doctors’ recommendations, the UNFPA reiterated. Pregnant women in general, and particularly those who develop symptoms of Zika virus infection, should also be closely monitored by health providers.

* * *

Responding to the looming health emergency posed by the Zika virus, however, could be hampered by recent efforts to set back the progress being made to promote and protect the reproductive health of Filipinos.

Recall that Congress has slashed the P2 billion budgeted for the purchase of contraceptives and other family planning services, including condoms. This development, firmly denounced by health groups, threatens the fulfillment of the government’s mandate, under the RPRH law, to promote and protect the health of women and their babies.

And now that another possible health crisis threatens us, the short-sighted action of Congress could bring even much worse consequences.

* * *


The woman stands in a field, a camera in her hands, peering at the moon. The orb shines brilliantly, but it has a quirky touch: a tiny horse galloping across its face. Look closer and you see the woman wearing a garland of flowers in her hair. But the flowers and ribbons are not painted but rather glued on, lending texture and whimsy to an otherwise tranquil scene.

The painting is the work of Carmen Brias, painter and sculptor and a trained art restorer who divides her time between Madrid and Manila. Starting March 3, she will have her latest works exhibited at the Altro Mondo Gallery in Greenbelt 5, her paintings and sculpture focusing, she says, “on the intimate relationship between the two countries” but from her private, personal and unique perspective.

Born in Manila to renowned portraitist Betsy Westendorp de Brias and a business executive, Carmen lived and studied in Manila until her teens when her mother moved to Madrid to found a painting school. Naturally, Carmen took an interest in the arts and even joined some classes, but because “she may not have wanted to be compared directly to me,” explains her mother, she decided instead to concentrate on art restoration in university.

But the call to create was too strong to resist. “As an artist, my soul is Filipino,” Carmen declares. “Most of the inspiration for my art comes from my childhood in Manila.” Moving to London at the age of 21, Carmen found a teacher in sculpture who studied under Henry Moore and convinced her to try her hand in the medium.

Still, despite her formal studies and background, Carmen’s art has been described as “a fantastic ingenuism with a surrealistic inclination, an exuberance of color using firm drawing to recreate the reality that surrounds us.”

* * *

Bustling behind the scenes, fussing in the kitchen with a giant paellera, is Carmen’s mother Betsy, who apologizes to her guests because she couldn’t find “the right kind of rice” to use in her dish, and complains that the closest variety she could find was “too sticky.”

The media persons invited to meet with Carmen (the two last held a joint exhibit in Manila in 2009) dig into the rice dish with gusto, while Betsy tries her best to stay in the background.

“She has always been somewhat of a free spirit,” Betsy says of the youngest of her three daughters, who nonetheless is the only one who chose to follow in her footsteps. But there are stark differences in their work styles.

“I want to be left alone while I paint,” says Betsy, “but Carmen cannot paint unless she is surrounded by other people, talking and drinking with them.”

The painting of the young woman gazing at the moon depicts Carmen’s daughter, Betsy says. “Maybe that’s why she told me that she was half-hoping it would not be bought because it means so much to her.” We express dismay at this, because of all the pieces—paintings and sculptures—the painting “called” to us, evoking a feeling of tranquility and calm. But maybe that’s what art is supposed to do—bridge the distances between artist, viewer and the work itself, sharing in common a feeling, a sentiment, a moment in time.

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TAGS: Carmen Brias, Dengue, Epidemic, reproductive health law, UN Population Fund, virus, Zika
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