Maura Leahy, M.P.H., C.H.E.S.
Program Associate, Child and Adolescent Health
The Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
September was National Preparedness Month, which gave AMCHP an opportunity to reflect back on past threats to the maternal and child health (MCH) population. Naturally, we want to apply lessons learned from past threats such as the Zika epidemic, to improve coordinated responses for future emerging and unknown threats and issues.
From December 1, 2015 to October 2018, more than 7,400 pregnancies with evidence of confirmed or possible Zika virus infection in the United States and its territories were reported to the U.S. Zika & Infant Registry.1 In response to the Zika outbreak, AMCHP and several partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and March of Dimes, convened discussion and focus groups attended by thought leaders to delve into the public health and MCH response to the epidemic. To help others apply lessons learned from the Zika response to future threats to the MCH population, AMCHP released three products that synthesized the key findings and conclusions of these meetings:
- Beyond Zika: Preparing MCH Programs for Future Threats to the Health of Families and Communities – Based on discussion groups and forums, this document summarizes the types of strategies and activities initiated through the Zika response that can strengthen overall systems and infrastructure to respond to future public health emergencies.
- Preparing for the Future: Zika & Long-Term Implications for Systems of Care – Based on discussions from MCH thought leaders, this document highlights gaps in the systems of care and opportunities for improving these systems to address the longer-term needs of those affected by Zika.
- The Value of Title V in Emergency Preparedness and Response – Based on results from a virtual focus group, this document synthesizes key takeaways on the value of Title V programs’ active involvement in the Zika response. It also describes actions needed to ensure Title V programs play a key role in future emergency preparedness and response activities.
As we think about new and emerging threats to the MCH population, one theme that is emphasized in all three resources is the importance of effective communication and messaging. In addition to the state implementation examples provided in the “Beyond Zika” issue brief, a new state profile about Georgia’s response to the Zika virus illustrates this theme. Georgia used innovative and clear messaging regarding infectious disease and MCH populations to provide consistent information and communication from the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) to 18 public health districts and other partners. Georgia’s approach to communications and disease messaging during the Zika response was multi-pronged:
- Comprehensive coordination activities included weekly statewide coordination calls, topical Zika webinars, an updated Preparedness and Response Plan, and a State-District Zika Action Plan.
- The Zika Epidemiology Team fielded and referred more than 9,000 calls with questions about the Zika virus since 2016, and the Georgia DPH developed plans for activating a Zika state call center and tested activation of the call center in May 2017.
- Georgia DPH conducted widespread outreach and developed educational materials for health care providers who work with populations at high risk for Zika.
- Georgia DPH participated in the Zika Farm Worker Project, which conducted outreach and education activities at farm worker camps in south Georgia.
To learn more about the communication strategies and other implementation activities in Georgia’s preparedness and response to the Zika virus, read the full snapshot of Georgia DPH activities here.
As the MCH field and public health more broadly prepare for new and emerging public health threats, the critical role of proactive and clear communication and messaging are important considerations in how to effectively reach vulnerable populations and change behavior. Georgia’s response to Zika is characterized by programmatic flexibility, enhanced preparedness efforts, and strengthened partnerships and relationships. These are the necessary components of future responses to emerging threats.
1 Fact Sheet: The U.S. Zika Pregnancy & Infant Registry (2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 22 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/zika/materials/documents/ZikaPRegTesting508.pdf.