Zika prevention measures urgently needed
Zika is all over the news, as the virus continues to spread to new parts of the continental U.S., threatening the brain development and nervous systems of fetuses and newborns. Zika can affect anyone, anywhere, but is a particular threat right now to the Gulf States, and most specifically to low-income, under-served communities in that region. More than 5,200 people in the U.S and U.S. territories have contracted Zika since 2015, yet Congress failed to act on a funding request from the president to address Zika before it went on summer recess.
In an op-ed published in today’s Houston Chronicle, Prevention Institute’s Sheila Savannah outlines the urgent need to address Zika using primary prevention strategies—and draws a parallel to other public health outbreaks. Sheila writes:
|The lack of adequate funding for Zika nationally is part of a pattern. Over the past 14 years, federal funding to help states and localities prepare for disasters — including infectious disease outbreaks — plummeted by 30%. Chronic underfunding of public health means we tend to lurch from crisis to crisis, whether the threat comes from a virus like Ebola or Zika, or from other public health problems like gun violence and opioid abuse. Addressing challenges only when they become emergencies puts lives on the line, and squanders resources that could have been used to prevent health threats.
Communities of low income are particularly at risk of Zika, which is often the case with public health disasters. Sheila details the need for longer-term strategies to protect these communities:
|…we need to insulate our communities from emerging public health risks by designing them to support health and equity. That means investing in quality, affordable housing; ensuring access to comprehensive and culturally appropriate healthcare services; and addressing unfair land use practices that place dumps in closer proximity to communities of color. It means expanding our notion of health beyond the walls of healthcare institutions, and making the conditions where people live, work, and play healthier.
In addition to taking local action, we must speak up for federal and state funds to support local health department efforts; fund clinical screening efforts; and address environmental risk factors like low-quality housing stock and inadequate mosquito control. We must expand access to reproductive healthcare services, in order to prevent sexually-transmitted Zika infections and empower women to plan their pregnancies and receive adequate prenatal care.
Now more than ever, it’s critical to support local and statewide public health staffing and infrastructure. In the face of federal inaction, some localities, particularly in Texas, are implementing their own prevention measures for Zika. Sheila notes:
The op-ed concludes by emphasizing the need for all sectors, from public health and healthcare, to public works and business, to pull together and meet the challenge of Zika. “Let’s stop reacting to the ongoing flood of crisis after crisis, and move upstream to prevention,” Sheila concludes.