Knowledge is the most potent weapon in the fight against diseases like Zika, which can cause life-threatening birth defects in the babies of pregnant women who are bitten by infected mosquitoes.
That’s why four Florida Gulf Coast University students teamed up with Planned Parenthood to find ways to educate women who have little education and limited reading skills about the dangers of Zika and what they can do to protect themselves.
The four Community Health students – Cayla Ehekircher, ’16; Mirel Marquez Jimenez, ’16; Cris Labra, ’17; and Julia Poynter, ’16 – chose this as their senior capstone project.
Ehekircher wanted to do an internship with Planned Parenthood so Charles Daramola, assistant professor and program director of Community Health at the Marieb College of Health & Human Services, contacted Planned Parenthood.
Kathleen Wiggs-Stayner, vice president of clinical business operations for Planned Parenthood, told him the organization needed research done involving Zika awareness and that she would need four students, including two who were bilingual.
Planned Parenthood knew the Immokalee and Naples communities were not as well served as they could be when it came to Zika education and the organization wanted to determine what their clients knew, what they didn’t know and how they learned.
“The overall goal of the Zika Health Awareness program is to educate local communities — especially women of reproductive age in medically underserved areas — about the Zika virus, mosquito transmission, sexual transmission, travel-associated risks, and prevention of Zika,” said Nan Morgan, education director for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
And so the students set out to get some answers in hopes of helping to ward off new cases of mosquito-transmitted Zika in women of reproductive age and in families in medically underserved regions of Collier County.
“None of us realized how big it would get,” says Ehekircher of the project. “We started with a survey but it grew from there.”
The students went to the clinic in Immokalee and took a look around the town to get a feel for the area. The idea was to determine how at-risk populations use information about Zika protection. Under Daramola’s supervision, the students crafted a survey in English and Spanish that aimed to determine the women’s knowledge of Zika and its prevention as well as physical, financial and social barriers toward the use of mosquito spray and condoms.
“Our job is to prevent disease, to educate the community,” says Daramola. “Any time we can do something to improve the quality of life for the community we are happy to do that. It was also a great joy for me to see the students pull together and take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to real-life experience. This is the type of work they are going to do when they graduate.”
After crafting the survey, the students visited the Immokalee and Naples clinics several times over the course of a couple of months to interview clients as they waited for medical appointments.
“They were usually very receptive,” says Ehekircher.
It was critical that the surveys be conducted verbally, says Wiggs-Stayner. “We needed to be able to speak with patients and give it to them verbally in their language of choice. Many patients that are illiterate in English or Spanish sign their names with an X. A questionnaire they would be asked to fill out wouldn’t work.”
After assessing the survey results, the students determined that Immokalee farmworkers are less likely to get news from television. They were more likely to listen to Spanish-speaking radio as they went back and forth to work so information broadcast on those stations would be more effective than TV commercials.
Another key finding was that cost was a barrier to accessing mosquito repellent, with repellent more expensive and less accessible in Immokalee than Naples. Coupled with healthcare disparities, lack of air conditioning and, in many cases, window screens, Latinas in Immokalee are at greater risk of contracting Zika and not receiving adequate care.
Working in conjunction with Planned Parenthood, the FGCU students created posters using images with a minimum of print so that those with low reading skills would still be able to understand them.
The result is a simple-to-understand poster, available in English and Spanish – and soon to be offered in Creole as well – that offers the basics of protection against this disease carried by some mosquitoes.
Planned Parenthood health centers in Immokalee and Naples provide Zika prevention kits to patients who are pregnant, plan to continue a pregnancy or who are undecided, as well as to women who are planning to become pregnant. As recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC), the kits include mosquito repellent, standing water treatment tablets, condoms and educational materials in English, Spanish and Creole. In addition, public service announcements are airing on a local Spanish radio station and locally produced flyers with pictographs are posted in high-traffic areas.
“What began with a phone call about an internship magnified into a project that could save people from birth defects and microcephaly,” says Daramola. “It benefits the community.”
It is a much-needed service, say Planned Parenthood officials.
The CDC says that family planning is the primary strategy for reducing Zika-related pregnancy complications. More than a third of Florida counties don’t have an ob-gyn provider. Florida is tied for last when it comes to women’s health and well-being, and reports some of the highest cervical cancer rates in the nation. Florida also has the third highest number of gonorrhea infections and the highest number of annual HIV diagnoses in the nation.
FGCU/PLANNED PARENTHOOD SURVEY FINDINGS
- 70% knew about Zika
- 63% knew it could be transmitted during sexual intercourse
- 50% had knowledge of one or more prevention methods
- 25% planned to use condoms in next 3 months
- 48% planned to use mosquito spray
- 96% of surveyed owned a TV but got news from day-time radio
- 40% felt store in their location did not sell mosquito spray
- 58% of those surveyed had less than high-school education and limited reading ability