Protecting Women from Zika in Puerto Rico

In 2016, Tashira, 22, of Puerto Rico got pregnant with her second child. Tashira didn’t plan to have another baby so soon, but she got pregnant when she ran out of birth control pills. During one summer visit to a health clinic in San Juan, Tashira disclosed her anxiety about the current Zika virus outbreak and the link between Zika infection during pregnancy and birth defects.

“I know Zika is spread by mosquitoes, but I didn’t learn that from a doctor. I heard it on the news,” Tashira said. “I didn’t know about Zika before I was pregnant, and now I am worried.”

Tashira’s concern was warranted. There is laboratory evidence that more than 4,000 pregnant women in Puerto Rico and U.S. territories have possible Zika virus infection as a result of the outbreak. The number of cases continues to increase.

Zika is one cause of microcephaly, a birth defect causing brain damage, which can have devastating, lifelong and costly effects. Babies with microcephaly can have a range of problems, including developmental delays, hearing loss and vision problems. Even babies without microcephaly who were infected by Zika before birth can experience many serious health problems. There is also an economic toll, since lifelong care is estimated to cost up to $10 million for a single infant with birth defects.

I didn’t know about Zika before I was pregnant, and now I am worried.

Women who choose to delay or avoid pregnancy in Puerto Rico can now access client-centered counseling and a full range of reversible contraceptive methods, free of charge, on the same day of their healthcare service at a variety of clinics, thanks to the Zika Contraception Access Network (Z-CAN). This collaboration brings the CDC Foundation together with the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration, and relevant federal agencies and implementing partners. In Puerto Rico, where an estimated 65 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, Z-CAN offers highly-effective, reversible contraception methods.

Traditionally, women in Puerto Rico wanting to access contraception have faced hurdles. Their challenges have included high out-of-pocket costs, a lack of options, personal beliefs, limited public knowledge of contraceptive products and lack of access to same-day contraception. Additionally, there has been a shortage of trained physicians.

Since Z-CAN launched in 2016, over 160 providers and hundreds of staff have been trained to safely provide reversible contraception to patients, and as of July 17, 2017, over 18,000 women have benefited from the island-wide program. An additional $2.5 million is needed to fully fund Z-CAN and extend the program through 2017.

CDC Foundation partners and donors have generously provided initial funding, along with tens of millions of dollars in reversible contraceptive product donations and offers. Additionally, a distribution supply chain is now in place across the island to ensure timely product delivery.

Z-CAN gives women options for choosing to delay or avoid pregnancy during the Zika outbreak. Women like Tashira now have more options for planning future pregnancies.

Learn more: To find out how you can help CDC fight health threats, or to learn more, contact Advancement at, 404.653.0790.

Photos: © David Snyder/CDC Foundation (Lab) and Joe Colon

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