Call for Response to Zika in Puerto Rico

Associate Professor of Anthropology Adriana Garriga-LópezAssociate Professor of Anthropology Adriana Garriga-López is a member of a group of experts that co-authored an essay and call to action titled “Public Statement on Zika Virus in Puerto Rico.” The essay appeared in Savage Minds (15 March 2016) with the Spanish language version forthcoming in a few days. The authors are members of the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Zika Interest Group. Among other courses at K, Garriga-López teaches “Medicine and Society.” She is an expert on the intersection of politics, societies, social justice, disease and epidemics and completed her doctoral work on the confluence of these forces in the HIV epidemic in Puerto Rico.

The essay on the Zika virus notes the influence of water and waste management, church proscriptions, the corporate use and development of experimental insecticides, and U.S. Congressional policy on the advent and future course of the epidemic in Puerto Rico. Zika is a public health emergency, and the essay calls for Zika prevention actions to benefit the people of Puerto Rico. Those actions include: “provide and install window screens in homes and businesses, assist in water systems management, and distribute vector surveillance and control strategies  In particular, public health authorities can assist with disposing of any waste that might collect water in order to minimize mosquito populations.

“The CDC has a Dengue station headquarters in San Juan, PR and should use that station as a base to conduct Zika prevention and mosquito mitigation campaigns. All prevention and research activities on the island should follow the principles of open access and collaboration appropriate for a public health emergency.  Furthermore, given the strongly suspected association between Zika, microcephaly, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, the CDC should be on high alert for these cases in Puerto Rico and prepared to deal with these diseases as they arise.

“Finally, care and support must be provided to pregnant women and their families who have or will experience Zika infection. Puerto Rico birth outcomes have been worsening since the advent of the economic crisis. The infant mortality rate climbed to 9.5 per 1000 live births for 2012. This burden is exacerbated by the large number of health professionals that have recently emigrated from the island.

“It is imperative that the Medicaid cap be removed for the island and resources mobilized immediately to fight this public health emergency, particularly in terms of prenatal and reproductive health care. Prevention of transmission, expanded medical care, reproductive rights, and long term sustainability of the water infrastructure should be the priorities, beyond the tourist and hotel areas. We call for assistance to local initiatives and support for already existing community structures, and affirm Puerto Rico’s right to defend the health of its population.”