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Supporting Puerto Rican women during Zika outbreak

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A program designed to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce birth defects during the height of the 2016-2017 Zika virus outbreak in Puerto Rico successfully served more than 21,000 women during a 16-month period. Dr. Eva Lathrop, associate professor of global health in Rollins and of gynecology and obstetrics in the Emory School of Medicine, worked with the CDC to lead the effort, called the Zika Contraception Access Network (Z-CAN). It provided women who wanted to prevent pregnancy access to a full range of contraceptive options, free of charge, on the same day of their initial clinic visit.

Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, including microcephaly. During the outbreak, Puerto Rico had the highest number of symptomatic Zika virus infections in the U.S. and U.S. territories. Additionally, researchers report that 65 percent of pregnancies in Puerto Rico were unintended in 2016.

“Prior to Z-CAN, there were numerous barriers that limited women’s access to contraception,” says Lathrop. “Through Z-CAN, we were able to reduce these barriers and give women who wanted to prevent pregnancy access to the contraceptive method of their choice, including long-acting reversible contraception, such as intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants.”

In nearly 140 already established clinics providing gynecology and obstetrics services in Puerto Rico, 21,124 women received contraceptive services from a network of 153 providers, specially trained and participating in the Z-CAN program across the island. All Z-CAN services were provided free of charge.

“Z-CAN demonstrates that with a concerted effort, commitment by many dedicated resources, and recognition of the benefits of giving women options to prevent pregnancy during a time of crisis, it is possible to prioritize and implement effective contraceptive services early in an emergency response,” says Lathrop.—Janet Christenbury

Related Article

"Zika Contraception Access Network (Z-CAN) supports 21,000 Puerto Rican women at height of Zika outbreak" (Press Release, 1/18/18)

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