(Co-authored by Christy Turlington Burns and Esther Reyes)
I recently returned from Orlando where I visited with Jennie Joseph and her team at the Easy Access Women’s Health Clinic.
While there I also met up with Esther Reyes, one of Every Mother Counts’ amazing Running Ambassadors who is based in South Florida. Esther drove up from Miami to join me and sit in on the first informational meeting to learn more about Zika and Every Mother Counts’ recent emergency grant to support Commonsense Childbirth. The grant supports this education as a component of the range of critical maternal healthcare Commonsense Childbirth provides that already includes, GYN care, birth control, education and support.
What Esther and I learned was there is a lot we still don’t know. It’s been largely reported that contracting the Zika virus during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects, including microcephaly, and that transmission of Zika occurs through the bite of an infected mosquito. We had also heard that the virus can be sexually transmitted and that perinatal, in-utero, and transfusion transmissions have also been reported. However, one of the important messages of the Zika Fridays meeting was for the partners of pregnant women and women of child bearing age. We know pregnant women are vulnerable to the Zika virus, but it is important to note that they remain vulnerable — even if they test negative before, during or after pregnancy — as long as they are having unprotected sex without a condom, and if their partner has been exposed to mosquitos infected with the Zika virus.
While there is not enough information about what the long term effects of the virus could be beyond the first and second trimesters, it’s important to focus on what we can do to prevent transmission.
We know the Zika virus remains in semen much longer than other bodily fluids, with some studies suggesting that men can carry it in their sperm for as long as six months. So, for those most concerned with preventing birth defects and protecting their families, using a condom during sex is critical for men, especially if living in or traveling to high risk areas, such as Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico.
As of August 1st, there were 14 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Miami and over 300 documented in Florida. With the help of Every Mother Counts’ emergency grant, Jennie Joseph and the Commonsense Childbirth team is able to not only protect the most vulnerable women and their families in Central Florida, but they are able to provide knowledge without causing panic. This knowledge is empowering them to make informed decisions that directly impact healthy outcomes for their whole community. The feeling in Miami, especially in the area where the first cases have been confirmed, is one of being in reactive mode. Whereas the same actions are now being carried out in a proactive way by the Commonsense Childbirth team in Central Florida.
With travel-related cases now reported in all 50 states, and local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmissions reported in Miami, these numbers will only continue to mount unless the public is educated and the most vulnerable populations are supported.
Commonsense Childbirth has always focused their attention on vulnerable populations in Central Florida. Every Mother Counts has proudly supported Jennie Joseph and Commonsense since 2013. Since that time we have directly impacted over 2,500 mothers and babies with quality, compassionate care, and education and support.
Here is more information on the Zika Project Grant:
- $15,500 over 4 months
- Approximately 500+ women will be directly impacted
- Targeted outreach in at-risk communities (at day cares, markets, nail salons, other gathering places) to make people aware of the program, and offer educational materials
- Zika-based ‘conversational support’ in a number of languages offered for drop-in community members every Friday
- Services offered for free or at reduced prices in various languages to at-risk populations, including access to supplies like Deet, condoms and contraceptives, education and gynecological/family planning exams and information.