A recent article in The New York Times called Puerto Rico “the United States’ front line in a looming [Zika virus] epidemic.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that — due to the island’s tropical environment providing an ideal breeding ground for the Aedes aegypti mosquitos that carry the virus — a quarter of its 3.5 million inhabitants will get the Zika virus within the year. On the basis of those dire predictions alone, planners may worry that it’s not the safest place to bring their meetings.
Except that they wouldn’t have the whole story, said Milton Segarra, Meet Puerto Rico’s president and CEO — which is how the island’s efforts to keep this virus at bay are paying off. “I don’t know why,” Segarra told Convene, these reports have gotten “so out of proportion.” As of mid-April, “out of almost 3.6 million people who live here, only 436 had Zika, and these cases were not in the tourist areas. That shows you how we, as a a government, are dealing with this particular situation. Obviously, being a warm-weather destination in the Caribbean, we know how to deal with mosquitos. We have had dengue, we have had chikungunya. The fact of the matter is that we’re taking the precautions to make sure that we protect, number one, all of us who live here, and number two, that this doesn’t spread.”
Those precautions include spraying all public areas, eliminating potential mosquito breeding grounds, and establishing a specific telephone line for locals and visitors to call in the event they see a potential breeding ground so that the government can take immediate action. “We are taking all of the necessary measures,” Segarra said, “and when people come to Puerto Rico, they see that it is not what has been portrayed in the States.”
Segarra believes the best way to convince meeting professionals is through examples of recent meetings that have taken place in San Juan without any incident — including DMAI’s CEO Summit, April 11–13, and the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP) Annual Convention, which brought 2,500 physicians to the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, April 6–9.
In fact, ACOFP’s president, Larry Anderson, D.O., felt so strongly that his experience proved the island is a safe place to meet that he volunteered to record a video testimonial for Meet Puerto Rico. The health and well-being of ACOFP’s members, Dr. Anderson says in the video, is of paramount importance, and attendees did not need to take any additional precautions — beyond using insect repellent — in Puerto Rico than they would have taken in other U.S. destinations. “We’re still looking,” he says in the video, “for our first mosquito.”