Puerto Rico Needs Our Help to Stop Zika


The Zika outbreak continues to rapidly spread across the Caribbean. If Zika were an earthquake, Puerto Rico would be the U.S. epicenter, while Florida and other at-risk states on the mainland would be developing fault lines. To help Puerto Rico bolster its response to Zika, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week declared a public health emergency at the request of the territory’s Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla. The public health emergency declaration shines a bright light on the needs in Puerto Rico.

“This emergency declaration allows us to provide additional support to the Puerto Rican government and reminds us of the importance of pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and their partners taking additional steps to protect themselves and their families from Zika,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

As we now know, Zika virus infection during pregnancy is dangerous for the developing fetuses of pregnant women because Zika can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects, as well as other developmental disabilities, including eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth. At last count, Puerto Rico had nearly 10,700 laboratory confirmed cases of Zika, including more than 1,000 pregnant women infected with the virus. The number of infected pregnant women is a real cause for concern, especially when you consider the devastating birth defects that Zika can cause and the associated costs to individual families and to society.

The HHS declaration grants access to certain funds for Puerto Rico. But make no mistake, additional private sector funding is desperately needed to meet critical needs that likely will not receive federal funding. I saw the need firsthand during my recent trip to Puerto Rico. To help fill urgent gaps where government funding is not available or will not be available in sufficient time, the CDC Foundation is bringing together private and philanthropic sector donors with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) technical leadership and expertise to accelerate CDC’s response to Zika.

The CDC Foundation’s work with CDC includes a number of efforts. For instance, we are working with CDC and partner organizations on communications to individuals, families and communities about how to protect pregnant women from Zika’s dangers. We also are providing educational materials and products—through packets called Zika Prevention Kits—that pregnant women can use to learn about Zika and protect themselves from the virus.

And we’re providing contraception access in Puerto Rico for women there who choose to prevent Zika-related birth defects by avoiding or delaying pregnancy during the outbreak. Through this effort, we are working with donors and partners to provide a full range of contraceptive options free of charge on the same day of a woman’s healthcare visit.

But more help is needed. You can help prevent Zika-related birth defects through three actions:

  • Share CDC’s important messages about protecting pregnant women.
  • Provide financial support to prevent Zika-related birth defects. To support our efforts, the CDC Foundation is seeking $35 to $50 million to bridge critical gaps and extend CDC’s emergency response efforts in Puerto Rico and the continental United States to combat the Zika virus and protect those at greatest risk.
  • And, communicate with your friends and networks about the Zika threat and how to help—look for information on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn).

I am greatly concerned about the threat of this devastating outbreak. We all need to do everything in our power to help prevent Zika from affecting more babies. Please unite with us to stop Zika.

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