As summer approaches, impoverished neighborhoods are becoming more susceptible to the Zika virus.
Decay and crime haunt the West Baltimore area, but the biggest threat facing the poorer neighborhoods of Harlem Park and Franklin Square is the number of mature, biting Asian tiger mosquitos that are moving in as the weather gets warmer. Scientists studying the phenomenon have found here nearly three times the number of mosquitos found in wealthier areas.
“We find way more mosquitoes in the lower-income neighborhoods,” reported Shannon LaDeau, a scientist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies. LaDeau and a group of scientists have been studying the urban ecology of mosquitos in the Baltimore area, and have determined that the trash, abandoned buildings, and moisture serve as a perfect environment for these mosquitos.
Like the water crisis in Flint, the Zika virus is also exposing the effects of environmental injustice on low-income groups, particularly minorities. The Harlem Park neighborhood is 96% African-American, and nearly half are living below the poverty line.
There are already dramatic health disparities between different demographics, and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen points out that, “the preparation for Zika brings to light even more acutely the disparities that are faced by our neighborhoods.”
The Aedes aegypti mosquito poses the biggest threat for the spread of Zika, and fortunately it does not thrive in the Baltimore climate. The Asian tiger mosquito, however, is present in abundance and also has the capability of spreading the terrible disease.
President Obama has requested $1.8 billion from Congress to expedite the development of a Zika vaccine. However, even with backing from the President, a vaccine could still be years away.
Developing a vaccine is a slow process, as scientists must meet many more government benchmarks before biopharmaceutical companies can bring them to market. It takes multiple years of lab research for scientists to figure out what the antigen is to stop a disease, and then it must go through at least four stages of testing.
The worldwide biopharmaceutical revenue amounts to $157 billion, but even with extra funding from the government, it is unlikely that a Zika vaccine will be on the market any time soon.