Educating communities and empowering women on how to prevent Zika virus transmission is the focus of a new collaborative effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the CDC Foundation, aimed mainly at pregnant women in U.S. territories and the Americas.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting these efforts, which include a comprehensive health campaign on Zika prevention and surveys on risk perception and knowledge gaps in the Americas, as well as community engagement on mosquito control especially to protect pregnant women from Zika. These initiatives will be funded by a $1.5 million grant to the CDC Foundation and PAHO.
After the virus began circulating in the Americas in 2015, reports of microcephaly and other neurological disorders increased in affected areas. Since then, it has been concluded that Zika infection in pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. Zika has also been linked to pregnancy loss and other problems in infants, including eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth.
"Pregnant women deserve the best and most relevant information about Zika in order to protect their pregnancies," said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "Collaborations such as this one, harnessing the best information and expertise from both CDC and PAHO, can have great impact and save lives."
"We face a number of large tasks, including the challenge of effectively communicating how to prevent Zika transmission," said PAHO Director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, MD, MSC. "We welcome these joint efforts that will allow us to develop concrete actions with the communities throughout the Americas to prevent Zika infections and protect those who need it the most."
As part of this effort, CDC will launch a multimedia campaign that includes public service announcements and print and digital materials, and will hold a series of community engagement events in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. The goal of the campaign is to educate pregnant women and communities about Zika prevention and provide them with the steps they can take to protect themselves from Zika infection, mainly by taking actions to prevent mosquito bites and avoiding potential sexual transmission.
PAHO will help countries in the Americas by implementing country-specific vector control communication strategies to engage individuals and communities in mosquito control campaigns, launching a regional campaign effort against mosquitoes, called Mosquito Awareness Week. PAHO, with support from partners, will also carry out Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practice (KAP) surveys in Latin America and the Caribbean to measure risk perceptions and address the knowledge gaps related to Zika. Risk communication strategies with the countries will also be strengthened and operationalized using a PAHO-designed model and training.
"We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for coming forward to support this communications campaign around Zika protection," said Dr. Judith Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. "The CDC Foundation is proud to fortify the work of CDC and PAHO to educate and empower women about the Zika virus."