Our Priority is to Protect Pregnant Women from Zika

Yesterday I attended the Atlanta Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon where Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), had a fireside chat about combating the Zika virus. In his discussion with Betsy McKay, Atlanta bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Frieden stressed to the standing-room only crowd that CDC’s priority is to protect pregnant women from Zika. At the CDC Foundation, we are doing everything we can to connect CDC with the philanthropic and private sectors to fight back against this relentless virus that has been definitively linked to severe birth defects.

The response to the Zika virus has been described by Dr. Frieden as the most complex in CDC’s history. Doctors who have spent the past three decades working in CDC’s birth defects center have never seen a situation so urgent. While the government is considering emergency funding for Zika and the private sector has been very generous with donations, Dr. Frieden highlighted that more support is needed by all sectors, particularly to carry out response priorities in the areas of highest risk.

This point is also brought home in a White House blog by Dr. Frieden, who underscores the need for all of us to take action now to protect the American people. As he notes, the sooner we start on the hard work of better understanding, diagnosing and preventing Zika, the sooner we will have better ways to protect pregnant women.

Dr. Frieden said there is a possibility of some local transmission of Zika virus in certain areas of the continental United States, particularly the Gulf Coast states, but he emphasized that the areas now at greatest risk are U.S. territories, especially Puerto Rico. In fact, he described the situation in Puerto Rico as a perfect storm—the territory is facing a fiscal crisis, a healthcare crisis and the spread of Zika, which now has blanketed three-quarters of the tropical island in a relatively short amount of time.

The CDC Foundation has received $1.7 million in funding plus substantial commitments of in-kind product donations from many donors and partners, but more support is crucial to help protect thousands of families from the devastation of Zika-related birth defects.

We urgently need help in the fight against the spread of this devastating virus, and we all have the opportunity to make a real difference. I encourage you to support CDC’s work by giving now to the CDC Foundation.

Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.