The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is increasing funding to fight the Zika virus in American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the department announced last Thursday.
Approximately $40 million will be awarded to 23 community health centers and two public health nonprofits in the United States territories to fight the mosquito-borne virus, which can also be sexually transmitted.
"Health centers in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories are on the front lines of fighting Zika," HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. "These awards will help provide training and technical assistance to health centers in developing and implementing activities to address immediate and anticipated Zika-related prevention and primary health care needs."
As of Nov. 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have received reports of more than 37,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika. Of that number, about 4,500 were from states, while more than 33,000 came from U.S. territories.
Fifty four confirmed cases of Zika were reported in American Samoa as of last month, Scott Ansei, the territorial epidemiologist with the American Samoa Department of Health, previously told NBC News. He estimated that the actual number of cases since the outbreak reached the island could be near 1,000. More than 30,000 confirmed cases were reported in Puerto Rico, according to the CDC.
Health centers in the three territories will receive approximately $39 million, which will be used throughout a three-year period to fund Zika-related preventive and primary health care services. Two nonprofits were awarded a combined $1 million, which will be used to provide technical assistance and training to health centers in developing methods to prevent the virus and manage Zika-related health care needs.
Zika infection during pregnancy can result in birth defects, including microcephaly, in which babies infected in the womb lose brain tissue as the virus attacks.
This year, HHS committed $561 million to the CDC, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response for efforts to combat Zika, Burwell said.