The head of the CDC just announced that Zika is “not really controllable with current technologies” and will become “endemic.” We know the virus causes life-altering birth defects by destroying brain growth in unborn babies. These children will never recover.
We also know that most people affected with Zika are asymptomatic meaning they can infect their sexual partners without even knowing, spreading the virus even further. Every state in the U.S. except Alaska has reported cases. Plus, for every case that’s reported, experts estimate another five times that number are infected, since only 20% are symptomatic, said Dr. Ed McCabe, Chief Medical Officer at March of Dimes. Worst of all, Zika has no vaccine. There is no cure.
And yet, most Americans don’t care. Maybe it’s the election cycle. Maybe it’s general malaise. Maybe we’ve all been watching too many movies with disease outbreaks where the heroes always find a remedy and save the world, all in 90 minutes.
Last month, Urban Institute released a new study that showed women of reproductive age lack knowledge about Zika virus transmission and effects. More than half of women do not know that Zika virus can be sexually transmitted. More than 70% of women do not know that Zika virus can cause an infection with no symptoms. The vast majority have significant gaps in knowledge regarding the transmission and health effects of Zika virus. Only 5.9% of women have talked with a health care provider about Zika. That means 94% of women haven’t. Let that sink in.
Zika is a problem every American must be concerned about. This isn’t just about pregnant women in a certain geographic area. We simply don’t know the full effects of Zika.
Still, we absolutely need to protect pregnant women, who should take precautions against mosquito exposure and avoid travel in areas with Zika virus outbreaks. The good news, if there is good news, is that Urban Institute’s study showed Hispanic women are more likely to have taken action because of concerns about Zika virus compared with non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black or other women. But much more is needed.
Even though Congress recently passed $1.1 billion dollars in funding to fight Zika, most of this money will not be available for the fight until 2017. Further, almost every expert agrees that much more money is needed to combat the virus in America and its territories. We must come together as a country and involve businesses, charities, faith groups and individuals. We can’t just rely on eventual government funds arriving months from now while people are suffering today and Zika’s reach expands.
America has a long history of wanting to help our neighbor in need. It’s that Good Samaritan spirit ingrained in our society since the founding of our nation. Volunteering in our local communities and giving individually or through our workplaces is critical, especially when a serious outbreak of infectious disease like Zika invades our borders.
We must raise awareness and funding to prevent the spread of Zika in order to end it. Government has an important role here, but we all need to join the fight. We need Zika Prevention Kits, bilingual awareness campaigns, training for healthcare workers, support for families with Zika-affected babies, vaccine research, mosquito control, travel guidance and so much more.
Charities can do things the government can’t always do effectively, like work in local neighborhoods, speaking to residents in their own language to provide education and services.
And then there’s business. Pfizer just committed $4.1 million dollars for Zika response to support local community efforts testing pregnant women, provide contraceptives, and leverage its own sales team to offer medical education. We need the entire business community to make this a priority and join the fight. Small and large businesses can make a huge difference. Money is needed right now for a variety of urgent Zika needs, such as:
• Enhancing diagnostic capacities for children who may have been exposed to Zika. These capacities include ultrasound equipment, retinal cameras, hearing exam equipment.
• Developing guidelines, training and continuing ongoing education programs, including Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Family Support programs and developing materials to support Zika-affected babies and their families and training NICU staff and healthcare workers.
• Strengthening diagnostic capabilities around insecticide-resistance and developing innovative approaches to advance effective mosquito control strategies.
• Raising awareness with education campaigns in both English and Spanish that inform the public on how to avoid becoming infected and what to do if they suspect infection.
• Augmenting current research investigating the biology of pregnancy that may yield important information about not only this virus, but also about causes of preterm birth and other adverse birth outcomes.
We can’t wait to take action. We must act swiftly now before the impact of Zika exponentially escalates. This is not an epidemic hurting people halfway across the world that you read about in the news. It’s right here, right now.