The Zika virus, which devastated countries in South America by causing birth effects, is likely to be in the United States this season. Mosquitoes carrying the virus are already present in Texas and Florida, and both states are finding that their medical infrastructure is woefully inadequate to handle a situation of this magnitude.
Florida and Texas already have issues providing comprehensive medical care for women
Both Texas and Florida opted out of expanding Medicaid, which means that in the last year, women’s health care has suffered. Family planning resources and treatments, pre and post-natal care, as well as termination services have all been gutted due to funding restrictions placed on them partly from declining to expand Medicaid, and partly from anti-abortion measures that unfortunately also reduced general healthcare for women.
Low-income women in both states already face great difficulty accessing healthcare when they are pregnant, especially those who fall into the coverage gap. The coverage gap consists of women who are not poor enough to qualify for state-funded health assistance, but also not rich enough to purchase medical insurance from the existing marketplace.
A majority of the women in the coverage gap will have access to some sort of prenatal health care, but they will probably visit doctors late into their pregnancy, and not be able to have required prenatal tests and health screenings. Even women with state-funded health insurance might have trouble accessing medical centers that actually accept their coverage, requiring them sometimes to travel two or three hours away for health care after weeks of waiting for an appointment.
Health care workers trying to spread awareness; Congress funding will arrive too late
Despite the issues present in the tremulous health care infrastructure in both states, health care officials are working to try and spread awareness of the virus. The best way to prevent birth defects caused by the Zika virus is to not get pregnant in the first place, a difficult proposition considering the fact that most women have trouble accessing family planning services.
Indeed, experts in Florida are concerned that spreading awareness could cause a massive influx of women into medical and family planning centers that will be unable to keep up with the services required. However, the grimmest news is for those who are already pregnant—there is nothing to do now but try and prevent mosquito bites by using repellent and taking other preventive measures.
Community health centers are having education seminars for all women of child-bearing age about the virus. However, most of the women who visit these centers don’t have access to air conditioning, cannot afford repellents and new mosquito netting, and live in areas with standing water. Worst of all, it is unlikely that they will be able to attend an appointment before they get exposed to the virus. In order to be truly effective, health care professionals need to make home visits, for which funds are not available.
Congress is in the process of slowly allocating emergency funding, but it is unlikely that the funding will get through in time to prevent the consequences of a Zika outbreak in both states.