With tens of thousands of confirmed cases in the Americas, Zika is a growing public health emergency in the Western Hemisphere and beyond. While we are harnessing all of our available resources to fight Zika here at home and abroad, we are also calling on communities, companies, and civil society to act now to build the global coalition required to beat Zika and the devastating birth defects it causes.
Why has the Administration placed such a high priority on acting as quickly as possible, even before local mosquitos begin to spread the virus in the Continental U.S. and Hawaii? Because any delay in action places more families at risk of Zika and increases the cost to our economy and our healthcare system.
We don’t yet have all the tools and resources in our toolbox to address many aspects of this urgent threat, which is why the Administration is focused on building the right team to beat Zika. This is a fight that will continue to require the best we can offer from the government, the private sector, and our communities – and it will require partnerships at every level.
We need your help to replicate best practices, develop innovative solutions, and break down barriers that often separate government, the private sector, and communities. That’s why the State Department brought together representatives from across governments, non-governmental organizations, and corporations last week to exchange information regarding the best ways to combat Zika. Public-private partnerships will be vital to our success, just as they have been in our fight against malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and Ebola. To stop Zika, we will need diverse expertise capable of addressing complex challenges, multiplying the impact across organizations, and inspiring communities to engage in the fight to protect themselves and their neighbors.
During focused roundtable sessions at State, representatives from different communities rolled up their sleeves to share partnership strategies to tackle the toughest Zika challenges, including killing mosquitos where they live and breed; improving diagnostic tests to provide immediate results; providing protection for pregnant women and their partners; leveraging existing supply chains to provide communities with the products and information they need; and reducing the impact of Zika on travel, tourism, and trade.
We were inspired by focused partnerships that have already made progress on the toughest global health challenges. For example, in just ten years, Nothing But Nets – a coalition that has supported the delivery of nearly ten million anti-malarial mosquito nets to vulnerable populations – has helped transform the once-distant dream of ending malaria deaths into a realistic possibility. Nothing But Nets advances this goal through a combination of leadership, community driven power, and – most importantly – a coalition of public and private individuals dedicated to serving the global community.
We continue to seek concrete, evidenced-based, lifesaving ideas that can be replicated, resourced, and amplified through partnerships with local, regional, and national organizations, faith-based communities, and youth groups. And we were inspired as we heard creative ways to pair civil society organizations with industry to bolster Zika prevention kits, create public service campaigns, and better direct information and resources to the communities that need them most – such as women seeking to become pregnant and their partners, as well as travelers to areas with confirmed Zika outbreaks.
In the fight against Zika, no solution is too big or too small. Community leaders can prevent mosquitos from breeding by eliminating standing water in flower pots or tires and by encouraging neighbors to do the same. Travel agencies, airlines, and cruise lines can provide clients with information from CDC.gov/Zika on actions to prevent Zika transmission and the risks involved with travel to Zika-affected areas. Companies and research institutions can take advantage of their intellectual capital to help develop vaccines, tests, and treatment options.
For our part, we will remain focused on the critical ingredients for successful partnerships to fight and defeat Zika and future disease threats that come our way developing a strong plan; identifying partners; and promoting activities that leverage strengths and comparative advantages for each partner. There is a lot of uncertainty around Zika and its potential long-term impacts, but we are certain that we must build the global coalition to #ZAPzika and act responsibly, act together, and act now.
Amy Pope is Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security
Heather Anne Higginbottom is the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources