By Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, EVP and Chief Medical Officer, Pfizer Inc.
The word “Zika” has burst into the national consciousness as a serious emerging threat to public health. The Zika virus is typically transmitted by the bite of a mosquito and poses huge risks to pregnant women, as it may cause birth defects.
Until recently, cases of Zika had been confined to parts of South America, Asia and Africa. Now, it’s reached our shores. In the United States and Puerto Rico, more than 19,000 cases have been identified, mostly in Puerto Rico. These numbers include more than 1,700 pregnant women.
While many people who contract Zika may feel no symptoms, it’s heart-wrenching to see the pictures of affected newborns and read stories about the fear Zika is spreading among parents expecting children. The toll in human misery is rising, along with actual and projected costs, which will continue for years to come. Dr. Tom Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the cost estimates of lifetime care for a baby affected by Zika may range from $1 million to $10 million, per child.
No medicine is currently available to treat or prevent Zika. Many biopharmaceutical companies are working with the U.S. government to develop a vaccine. The research is being expedited, but success isn’t guaranteed, and it may be more than a year before a safe and effective vaccine is ready to be considered for approval.
Of course, a vaccine is only one of the ways America must confront Zika. Our nation has more than a century of experience in dealing with mosquito-borne pathogens, and many preventive measures are being taken now. That said, state and local public health budgets are strained, and Zika adds to the burden.
At Pfizer, a global healthcare company with a mission to improve public health, we want to do our part to help Americans confront this issue.
Rising to meet society’s challenges is something businesses—and the public—see as an imperative. There is an appropriate expectation for private and public sector cooperation, especially in the face of threats like Zika. And while no one organization can solve a major challenge alone, we can all do our part.
We at Pfizer are working to connect resources with expertise, with the goal of amplifying the public health capabilities of government at all levels. For example, the Pfizer Foundation recently provided a $1 million donation to the CDC Foundation in funding for the comprehensive Zika response. Additionally, we committed to provide up to 170,000 doses of our long-acting contraceptive in Puerto Ricoto help alleviate the fear of Zika-triggered birth defects.
On the mainland, officials have identified two needs that the Pfizer Foundation is helping to meet with a $1 million grant to the Florida Department of Health. The funds will purchase the additional lab equipment needed to process the huge influx of Zika tests, and develop a broad-reaching public service campaign to help educate Floridians about prevention.
Also, in a first-of-its-kind effort, our professional representatives who regularly meet with physicians will distribute Zika prevention materials from the Florida Department of Public Health so those physicians can, in turn, educate their patients. Similarly, Texas health officials will have available a $1 million grant from the Pfizer Foundation for education, mosquito control and other prevention strategies.
Pfizer recognizes its recent investments in combating Zika are a small contribution to a much larger strategy requiring both public and private sector efforts and creative, agile partnerships. The public has a right to expect expert collaboration on issues at the heart of public health. We hope others will join us in this important effort. Working together, we can confront and overcome this emerging health threat.