Press Room

Health Officials Seek Sustained Investments to Protect Moms and Babies

ARLINGTON, VA (Aug. 7, 2018)—Health officials say a new CDC study on Zika-associated birth defects is a stark reminder that emerging infectious diseases constitute a persistent threat to our nation’s health security. Given the higher rate and broader spectrum of disabilities associated with Zika during pregnancy, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) urges policymakers to direct continued resources to monitor the impact of Zika on mothers and babies.

According to the largest report to date on health outcomes among babies in the U.S. territories one year or older, 1 in 7 have been diagnosed with health problems possibly caused by exposure to Zika. The report also presents new information on neurological conditions seen in infants affected by Zika—even those who appeared healthy at birth.

“State and territorial public health departments are working with healthcare providers to collect and report medical information, share clinical guidance, and raise awareness about the risks of Zika,” says John Wiesman, president of ASTHO and secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health. “To continue this and respond to both ongoing and emerging disease threats, we need sustained investments in the U.S. Zika Pregnancy and Infant Registry to strengthen our nation’s health security capabilities.”

The height of the Zika outbreak has passed, but it remains a threat to mothers and babies who are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases and birth defects that can result from these infections during pregnancy. While the full extent of long-term health problems caused by Zika remains unknown, state and territorial health departments play a critical role in monitoring the health and developmental outcomes of children affected by many different types of infectious diseases and conditions, such as pandemic influenza, prenatal opioid exposure, and congenital syphilis.

Unfortunately, funding to safeguard the public’s health has fluctuated drastically over time, dictated by emergency responses to specific disease events. “We urge Congress to provide at least $10 million to support initiatives to address emerging threats to mothers and babies. This will allow CDC to continue collaborating with state, tribal, territorial, and local health departments to monitor mothers and babies impacted by Zika and other infectious diseases,” says Michael Fraser, chief executive officer of ASTHO. “We need adequate resources in place so that we’re prepared for the next public health emergency.”


ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and freely associated states, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.