RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil – Watching kids skate around an ice rink inside the 1-million-square-foot Ribeirao Shopping center, you would hardly guess that this city is one of the hardest hit by the Zika epidemic.
Young women in dresses buy lattes at a Starbucks by the rink. Men in shorts and T-shirts take selfies with their cellphones next to a stand selling exercise machines. If they look unconcerned, it’s because, in this air-conditioned space, the mosquito that carries Zika can’t survive.
Although 230 miles from the southeastern coast, Ribeirao Preto is sometimes called the California of Brazil. The nickname traces back to the 1980s, when a boom in sugar and ethanol production raised living standards for many residents. But the boom left many others behind.
In this respect, Ribeirao serves as a microcosm for a country with a vast gap between rich and poor. The class divide is reflected in the lopsided way that Zika is spreading in Brazil, one of the world’s most unequal countries – where the richest 1 percent of the population earns more than a quarter of all income.
You don’t have to go very far to see the other side in Ribeirao. Just a 20-minute drive north from Ribeirao Shopping, in the neighborhood of Jardim Jandaia, extended families live in narrow shacks of dull-red cinder block, sleeping on bare mattresses in ovenlike rooms sectioned off by hanging blankets.
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