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MCH Leaders Have A Central

With the arrival of summer heralding both warmer days and increased numbers of mosquitos, Federal, State, and local public health agencies, offices, and organizations across the country continue to work urgently to prevent the spread of Zika and in particular the catastrophic outcomes associated with maternal Zika infections. As the world’s experts in responding to and tracking emerging public health threats, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been and continues to lead the nation’s coordinated response to Zika. However, because those most adversely impacted by Zika are women and children, it must be noted that Maternal and Child Health (MCH) leaders and organizations have a unique responsibility to protect and support MCH populations in their state and communities. State and local MCH organizations, more than any other federal, state, and local public health organizations, are uniquely positioned to reach out to and communicate with MCH populations, particularly underserved families that are oftentimes difficult to reach. 

MCH leaders therefore have a critical role to play in reducing the risk posed by Zika among women of child bearing age and preventing the devastating birth defects caused by Zika infections during pregnancies. 

At the federal level, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) has been working closely with CDC to track Zika cases and disseminate up-to-date information about Zika (prevention, screening, and testing) to our state and local grantees. More broadly, the MCHB response to Zika is made up of three key pillars. First, MCHB is working with its grantees (State Title V offices, State Home Visiting grantees, and Healthy Start grantees) to conduct extensive outreach and get information on how to prevent Zika into the hands of pregnant women and all women of child bearing age. Second, MCHB is working to ensure that healthcare providers who care for women and children receive up-to-date clinical guidance, including when to screen pregnant women for Zika and how to evaluate newborns and infants exposed to Zika in-utero. Third, MCHB is developing strategies and best practices for MCH health professionals to ensure that all children born with microcephaly or select central nervous system (CNS) defects are connected to and receive the healthcare, early intervention, and support services that they and their families require. 

MCHB is also working with CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities to assist, when requested, state and local MCH organizations with developing or strengthening partnerships with State health departments, including State labs, epidemiologists, and birth defects surveillance programs. Such partnerships will better enable MCH organizations and professionals to participate in CDC-centralized clinical and surveillance data projects such as the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry ( Participation in such centralized, pooled clinical data projects should facilitate the development of rapid “real-time” data collection and reporting of both microcephaly and select birth defects potentially linked to Zika virus. Such data could then be utilized to improve public health monitoring and inform the eff ectiveness of local prevention and intervention strategies. 

MCHB also encourages all MCH organizations and professionals to reach out to their State health departments and Title V offices and inquire about and participate in State Zika response plans. Working with their State health departments will provide local MCH organizations more opportunities to participate in Zika prevention efforts and facilitate sharing of “real time” data on the effectiveness of Zika prevention and outreach eff orts in their communities. Reaching out to and partnering with their State Title V offices, and with their Title V Children with Special Health Care Needs programs, will help to facilitate the sharing of best practices and care coordination strategies that help to ensure infants affected by Zika and their families have access to and are receiving the comprehensive, community-based, care and support they require. Most importantly, it is critical that MCH leaders and organizations take a central role in their state’s response to Zika as their unique ability to reach out to and communicate with women, children, and families makes them indispensable partners in preventing the spread of Zika and protecting the lives of those most vulnerable.

By Aaron Lopata, MD
Chief Medical Officer, HRSA Maternal Child Health Bureau

Article appeared in September 2016 issue of CityLights (PDF) produced by CityMatch

Date Last Reviewed:  April 2017