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As Dr. Frieden said, the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico is exploding. The island is reporting more than a thousand new cases of Zika each week, and that's particularly troubling for pregnant women since Zika can cause birth defects. In an effort to strengthen prevention measures, a group of Puerto Rican obstetricians and gynecologists are making contraception free and available to any woman who wants it to cut down on pregnancies during this outbreak. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from San Juan.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: In a way, this free contraception plan seems very straightforward. Zika, primarily, is a threat to pregnant women, so do what's possible to reduce the number of pregnancies, at least until this outbreak subsides. The driving force behind this initiative is Dr. Nabal Bracero, the head of the local chapter of the American Congress of OB-GYNs.
NABAL BRACERO: If the patient decides that she wants to practice contraception, the device or the method is going to be in the office of the physician and on a same-day availability.
BEAUBIEN: Dr. Bracero says Zika is the dominant medical issue in Puerto Rico right now. The island has had nearly 9,000 confirmed cases. Nine hundred of those are pregnant women. And there's great fear among both expectant parents and their doctors about whether those fetuses will suffer potentially devastating birth defects, including neurological delays and underdeveloped heads. Right now transmission of Zika, according to officials from the CDC, is probably at or near its peak with well over a thousand new cases being reported each week. Bracero says, historically, access to contraception and use of birth control in Puerto Rico have been quite low.
BRACERO: We have 65 percent unplanned pregnancies compared to 50 percent in the States.
BEAUBIEN: Under Obamacare, many Puerto Ricans have access to contraception, but this new initiative offers birth control for free to any woman who wants it. It launched last month, and Bracero says the contraceptives are now available at OB-GYNs' offices all across the island.
And a key part of it is that doctors are not just handing out condoms and birth control pills, which Bracero calls low efficiency, low compliant methods. The program is offering women more expensive, long-lasting implants and IUDs in addition to pills or condoms. He says the goal is...
BRACERO: Trying to empower women who do not want to conceive because they just don't want to or because they are afraid of conceiving with a Zika threat that there is a capacity to have access to better and improve methods of contraception.
BEAUBIEN: Dr. Ednise Roman, an OB-GYN in San Juan says Zika has changed her practice dramatically. She says Zika is one of the first things women who are trying to get pregnant want to talk about. And Dr. Roman says increasing access to free birth control here especially in the midst of this outbreak is a really good idea.
EDNISE ROMAN: I don't know. Here in Puerto Rico, contraception - I don't know why it's difficult in terms of you can get condoms everywhere. But people don't want to buy them, they want to have it for free...
BEAUBIEN: She says all she can offer her patients right now around Zika are preventative measures. There's no treatment, no vaccine, no magic bullet to keep from getting it. She encourages women who are pregnant or want to get pregnant to use insect repellent and avoid mosquitoes. But she says also delaying pregnancy is a precaution that should be available right now to all Puerto Rican women. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, San Juan.
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