Global Health: Private Sector Is Helping Puerto Rico Fight Zika


As Congress and the Obama administration argue over funds for fighting the Zika virus, private donations — in cash, condoms and mosquito repellent, for example — are helping fill the gap in Puerto Rico.

Officials there say they are losing precious time and the donations have helped residents, although the amounts are tiny compared with the need.

During the Ebola epidemic, the C.D.C. Foundation — a charity created to support the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — raised $55 million, including $38 million from foundations controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, and Paul Allen, a founder of Microsoft.

The foundation has received only $1.7 million in cash toward efforts to stem the Zika epidemic. It has also received tax-deductible donations of goods, whose value it does not release.

Last week, Dr. Johnny Rullán, a former health secretary of Puerto Rico now acting as the governor’s adviser for the epidemic, complained that he had not seen a single public-service announcement about the Zika virus on television, radio or in print, even though the island reported its first case of local transmission in late December.

Like other public health officials, he said: “I’m getting up at 6:30 to go on the radio, because it’s free media. That’s not enough. You need paid media, and I haven’t seen a cent spent on that, because Puerto Rico is broke.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last week donated $1.5 million toward “risk communication,” half of it through the C.D.C. Foundation and half through the Pan American Health Organization.

Dr. Rullán said he was “very grateful for this timely response.”

Other private donations are filling the “Zika kits” that the Puerto Rico health department gives pregnant women.

S C Johnson donated 60,000 cans of Off! insect repellent. Spectrum Brands contributed Repel, the 3M Company gave Ultrathon, and CRC Industries gave its house brand.

The Summit Chemical Company donated Mosquito Dunks, which dissolve in standing water, releasing bacteria that kill mosquito larvae.

The RB company gave 225,000 Durex condoms, and Church & Dwight donated 150,000 Trojans. Walgreens, which has 120 stores in Puerto Rico, donated space for C.D.C. education materials and lowered prices on condoms and repellent.

Although the island’s official count of diagnosed cases is only in the hundreds, Dr. Rullán said he believed the real caseload was closer to 80,000. Half of those infected are men, he said, and there had been too little public discussion of the dangers of sexual transmission, so he hoped the money would go for that.

While waiting for Congress to act on Zika funding, the C.D.C. said it had redirected $85 million from other budget items to states and United States territories, mostly to build up laboratories, fight mosquitoes, increase surveillance and protect the blood supply.

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