AHF: FL Officials Forcing Removal of Zika Billboards is “Outrageous” and “Counter-productive” to Growing Public Health Threat

FT LAUDERDALE (August 17, 2016) Despite a growing outbreak of confirmed Zika virus cases in South Florida, local officials from the office of Fort Lauderdale Mayor, Jack Seiler and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB) moved this week to remove billboards paid for by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to promote the role of condom usage in preventing the spread of the deadly virus.  Following several complaints received from officials in the Mayor’s Office the GFLCVB and their advertising agency Starmark, the billboards were immediately removed in locations near the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airport and in the city of Fort Lauderdale.

AHF’s billboard campaign, which was launched less than two weeks ago in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, features the silhouette of an unfurled condom on a white background with the headline “Prevents Zika Transmission” as a warning that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted.  The billboard directs to the website www.useacondom.com.

AHF launched the proactive prevention campaign, following the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) unprecedented travel warning for a Miami neighborhood after a handful of Zika infections were found in individuals who had been bitten and infected by local mosquitos.  Following their placement, the billboards received significant praise from the Florida Department of Public Health, applauding their important and impactful message.

According to a recent article in the New York Times ,there is a concern that while mosquitoes are the primary carriers of the virus, which has swept across the Americas and the Caribbean, infecting tens of thousands of people and causing devastating birth defects in more than 1,800 newborns, health officials are concerned that the threat of sexual transmission remains little understood, largely underpublicized and worryingly underestimated.

Furthermore, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an article published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, said Zika represented “an unprecedented emergency.”

“Never before, to our knowledge,” Dr. Frieden wrote, “has a mosquito-borne virus been associated with human birth defects or been capable of sexual transmission.” 

“Given the continual outbreak of new Zika infections across Miami-Dade and Broward County, some of which have been linked to sexual transmission, our community is clearly dealing with a major public health issue.  It is outrageous that the Mayor’s Office or the convention and visitors bureau would remove these billboards, which had a public health message that was relevant to both our community and those visiting the area,’ stated Michael Kahane, AHF Southern Bureau chief, whose offices are headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.  “The staff at city hall are hired to serve the public and through the actions of city officials and those at the CVB, in removing these billboards and acting like we don’t have an issue, is counter-productive to the on-going battle to proactively prevent any sexually transmitted disease, like Zika, throughout our community.  Our officials have acted inappropriately and are jeopardizing the public’s health because of their actions.”