Steven Christopher Alley

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

Sociomedical SciencesColumbia University

Dengue Fever and Trash Collection in Brazil: Politics of Responsibility in Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

Dengue fever epidemics in Brazil are worsening, and are driven by entrenched poverty and political abandonment of the urban poor: inadequate trash removal in slums leads to environmental conditions conducive to dengue's spread. Unlike malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in rural freshwater, dengue is a disease of urban trash because its mosquitoes infest discarded bottles, cans and tires that accumulate in urban slums. An emerging dengue control strategy in Brazil promotes civil-state trash collection partnerships to remove container item refuse in poor neighborhoods. Although the poor are often held responsible for dengue in Brazil, and are criticized for resisting insecticide-spraying campaigns and home inspections that local inhabitants view as intrusive, innovative trash collection partnerships involve the urban poor in dengue control projects that structure new possibilities for public health citizenship. This ethnographic study will integrate theory and methods of public health and medical anthropology to investigate the politics of responsibility for dengue in Brazil within overlapping domains of public health and social activism. The study will answer the following three research questions. First, how does the intersection of structural factors and collective agency shape public health citizenship around dengue control in Brazil? Second, what are the cultural assumptions about the causes of dengue and where do they place responsibility for its eradication? Third, what is the relationship between socially marginal groups that participate in civil-state dengue trash collection programs, and groups that occupy existing power structures, such as state health authorities, NGOs, and international policy makers?