Geovanna is four months-old, and is one of the 395 children born with the Zika virus Salvador, capital of the northeastern Bahia state. Diagnosed with microcephaly, the baby is taken once a week to the Bahia Rehabilitation Institute (IBR), which recently launched a support group for families of children with microcephaly.
Geovanna’s mother, Sílvia de Jesus Pinheiro, a school teacher, said she believes the professional guidance provided at the institute will boost the child’s development. “We’re starting to participate in the group with other children today” after coming in for two initial sessions at the institute, she said. “Our expectations are wonderful, always very optimistic. I’m confident that the baby will develop, and I know people are here to help with that.”
IBR is a charity in operation for 60 years, and is known across the state for its rehabilitation services. Teams made up of four psychologists, speech, occupational and physical therapists are currently assisting the families of seven children with microcephaly. The number of families is expected to grow, according to IBR Coordinator Rogério Gomes. “[T]here’s a selection process and an evaluation stage,” he said. “We’ll expand our services as the demand increases,” he said.
From October 2015 to Feb. 27 this year, 817 cases of microcephaly were documented across the state, according to the latest report from Bahia’s Health Secretariat. Salvador is the city with the highest number of cases.
IBR psychologist Júlia Reis said her efforts are mainly focused on the mothers. “They have every reason for being concerned and feeling unprepared at some point. And it is our job to tend to their suffering, and help them deal with it, encouraging them to stimulate their children, so they can see them not as victims of a pathology, but as their sons and daughters,” said Reis, who has been working with Pinheiro. “We care for the mother so she can care for her child,” she added.
According to IBR specialists, Geovanna is showing clear improvements despite her recent admission to the program. She is reacting well to the welcome song, to garment changes as bodily stimuli, and to the presence of other children.
Pinheiro said it’s natural for mothers to be surprised by a microcephaly diagnosis, but the condition can’t be allowed to take over the family’s routine. “Here’s the difference,” she said. “[T]he mother of a baby with microcephaly is not just a mother, but a team of specialists: Social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist. Love conquers all. A baby with microcephaly needs to feel loved and the person who shares this love is, above all, the mother.
“The mother-child connection should be founded on love, regardless of microcephaly,” Pinheiro concluded, her eyes tearing up.
Words and photo by Sayonara Moreno