Starting last week, canvassers in bright pink Planned Parenthood T-shirts knocked on doors in Miami-Dade to spread the word about Zika prevention.
For the next six weeks, 10 staff members will go door-to-door in areas where large groups of reproductive-age women live, including Little Haiti and Hialeah, but may not have been reached by state or federal Zika education efforts. Tanisha Osorto of Planned Parenthood said the effort will reach 25,000 households. The workers will knock on doors during six-hour shifts six days a week to get the word out.
Lenroy Watt, 41, started canvassing on Saturday. He said most people he talks to say they know about Zika, but once he starts asking them questions their knowledge gaps become obvious.
“I say, ‘It can be spread through sex’ and the smile disappears,” he said.
In a Tuesday morning press conference announcing the plan, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson brought up the partisan skirmish over the congressional Zika funding bill. She called the add-ons to the $1.1 billion Senate bill, including a restriction on federal grants for Planned Parenthood and other nongovernmental agencies, “poison pills.”
“This is not the time nor the season to even broach the subject of defunding Planned Parenthood,” she said. Wilson, a Democrat, called for Congress to reconvene and pass a “clean” bill.
“Stop trying to regulate my body and do your job,” she said. “We need a vaccine. We need research. We need it now.”
Dr. Christopher Estes, chief medical officer for the local Planned Parenthood office, said the organization has been preparing for the virus for months and informing patients. The next step is going door-to-door with Zika kits for pregnant women and informational fliers for everyone. The Planned Parenthood kits are based on the Florida Department of Health kits and contain insect repellant, standing water treatment tablets, educational materials in Spanish, English and Creole and condoms.
“Yes, you heard me right,” he said. “We’re giving out condoms for pregnant women.”
The Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito bites and unprotected sexual activity, which Estes said makes Zika a Sexually Transmitted Infection.
And STIs are Planned Parenthood’s specialty, said Lilian Tamayo, the CEO for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. She said Miami-Dade has the highest amount of uninsured working-age adults in the state and a “staggering” rate of STIs, setting the state up for a disaster unless there’s swift government action.
Tamayo criticized Florida Gov. Rick Scott for not reacting to the parts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention action plan that call for more information and resources on family planning.
“You cannot have a Zika strategy that focuses solely on mosquitoes,” she said. “You can’t cherry pick the CDC strategy.”