Thousands of IUDs and Pill Packs Donated to Puerto Rico Are Just Sitting Around

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Photo: BSIP/UIG

Puerto Rico is expected to be hit much harder with the mosquito-borne Zika virus than is mainland U.S., and philanthropic efforts to help women there avoid pregnancy are facing hurdles from the territory’s struggling health-care system. Twenty million hurdles, to be exact.

The Zika virus can cause the birth defect microcephaly and other neurological problems in babies of women infected during pregnancy (but not every fetus exposed will have problems). Experts estimate that 20 to 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s population could be infected by the end of the year; some women there are being told to delay getting pregnant for at least a year.

Pharmaceutical companies including Allergan, Bayer AG, Medicines360, and Merck recently donated a total of about 60,000 IUDs and 80,000 pill packs to the charitable arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help women in Puerto Rico better plan their pregnancies.

But the CDC Foundation says it needs another $20 million to train doctors and cover the cost of the services. Nearly half of Puerto Rican residents have insurance through Medicaid, for which doctors there have received “historically low reimbursement rates,” Reuters reports, and are hesitant to essentially donate some of their time because of the island’s financial crisis.

Thus far, the foundation has raised $1.7 million, which was enough to train two dozen doctors (whose training was conducted by reproductive health-care nonprofit Upstream USA*) and provide free services to 700 women. Thousands of IUDs and pills are just sitting around at the pharma companies as the organization lines up a licensed distributor. In the meantime, Bayer, Allergan, and Medicines360 have begun training medical professionals how to insert their IUDs.

Really makes you appreciate that two-minute call to your gyno for a birth-control refill.

*This post originally stated that Upstream USA donated IUDs and birth control pills to the CDC Foundation. Upstream USA is not a pharmaceutical company; they are a national nonprofit that provides training for health centers to improve reproductive health care and access to contraception.