Cultural factors may make Zika prevention more difficult in American Samoa

Despite extensive efforts by HHS, the Zika virus may be more dangerous to the region than previously expected due to various cultural factors preventing Samoans from receiving valuable prevention techniques and education on the effects of the virus, according to NBC News.

Scott Anesi, a territorial epidemiologist with the American Samoa Department of Health, said there are currently 54 official cases of the virus, with at least 21 confirmed in pregnant women. However, the actual number of those who contracted the virus may be even higher, closer to 1,000 people. To date, there have not been any reported cases of microcephaly in the region. Microcephaly is a birth defect caused by the virus.

According to the article, health organizations in the region have received over $500,000 from the federal government to standardize preventative and education strategies to educate the population about the virus and its effects. Those strategies included condom and insecticide distribution, peer-to-peer education efforts in villages and free prenatal care across the territory.

However, officials are having a tough time carrying out those strategies. Michaela Howells, PhD, assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, said poverty in much of the region is not the only reason prevention efforts have been largely ineffective. She said the region's emphasis on Christian values prevents public schools from discussing sex education, including the importance of condoms in preventing the spread of the virus, which can be transmitted sexually.

To help improve prevention efforts, Ms. Howells said public health organizations must work closely with "local medical officials, chiefs and churches" to help build cultural competency and facilitate understanding within the community as to how preventative measures like sex education will help individuals stay healthy.

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