Take Three Actions Now to Zap Zika and Prevent Birth Defects

“When an earthquake hits, we understand the need to respond,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the National Press Club last week. “Now, imagine if you had the power to stop an earthquake. We, together, using the tools of public health, have the power to stop the health equivalent of many earthquakes that happen.”

Zika is one of those earthquakes, and there is not a moment to waste as we work together to stop this unprecedented and tragic threat. This is the first time in history that a virus causing birth defects has been spread by mosquitoes. We’re learning more every day about what Zika causes and how to prevent it, but there is still a lot that we don’t know.

Birth defects caused by Zika are devastating and wide ranging. Infants are being born with microcephaly, or smaller than expected heads and smaller brains, compared to babies of the same sex and age. These infants may experience a wide range of lifetime health problems including seizures, developmental delay, decreased ability to learn and function in daily life, problems with movement and balance, feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing, hearing loss and vision problems.

According to CDC, the estimated lifetime cost for caring for these infants is up to $10 million per child—not including the stress placed on the families of these children or the societal challenges that these birth defects inflict.

At the CDC Foundation, we’re helping CDC in the fight against Zika, yet there is far more to do. Since February, we have worked closely with CDC, focusing primarily on women and their partners in high-risk areas for Zika, including Puerto Rico. Early in the response, we worked with donors to provide products for Zika Prevention Kits to protect pregnant women. In recent weeks, we announced a communications campaign aimed at educating pregnant women and communities in U.S. territories about Zika prevention.

And in the past few days we announced several substantial donations, including contributions of contraceptive units, bed nets and mosquito control tablets from Bayer, and partnerships with Allergan, Medicines360, Upstream USA and Merck aimed at providing women and their partners in Puerto Rico who want to delay or avoid pregnancy during the Zika outbreak improved access to a range of contraceptive methods. These product donations are vital, especially considering that two-thirds of pregnancies in Puerto Rico are unplanned, and that 138,000 women there are at risk of unintended pregnancy and do not use one of the most effective or moderately effective forms of contraception.

While these generous product donations are crucial to fighting Zika, there remains an urgent need for $20 million in funding to implement this contraception access effort beyond an initial pilot phase. We urgently need help from donors like you—individuals, philanthropies and businesses—to purchase and distribute certain contraceptive products outside of any donation and train and reimburse providers for contraceptive services as well as for insertion and removal of contraceptive devices.

Efforts are underway to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, but that will take time. With mosquito season upon us, the virus is now spreading rapidly. More than 300 women in the United States, including territories, have evidence of infection with Zika, a number that will only increase in the future.

We urgently need help in the fight against the spread of this devastating virus, and there are three steps you can take. Please take action to:

  1. Make a contribution to the CDC Foundation: Give Now
  2. Spread the word to your families, friends and networks:
    Share on Twitter - Share on Facebook - Share on LinkedIn
  3. Protect yourself: Learn More

As Dr. Frieden recently said, “We need a robust response to protect American women and reduce to the greatest extent humanly possible the number of families affected. We don’t know who those children will be. We don’t know where they will grow up. But anything we don’t do now, we will regret not having done later.”

I share CDC’s concern about the Zika crisis, and I urge you to act today, through these three simple steps, to help CDC protect us all.


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