Since the center’s inception in 2010, PROTECT has strived to establish partnerships in Puerto Rico with study participants, the community, and the March of Dimes – networks of connection forged in an effort to positively influence the health of the community. Highlighted in this article are some of the significant community engagement steps that the PROTECT Team has taken in the past year.

Given the center’s sizable cohort of pregnant women, PROTECT has played a significant role in educating and increasing awareness of environmental health issues in the community. The Human Subjects Core (HSC) and Community Engagement Core (CEC) have jointly conducted multiple presentations with collaborating health centers as well as with medical and nursing students at various universities on the island. The CEC has begun a research project on healthcare provider’s perceptions and awareness of environmental health risks, an endeavor which will hopefully allow the team to better target environmental health activities for medical professionals in the area. The team has also published a series of environmental health brochures to disseminate to participants and healthcare providers.

In addition, PROTECT has continued to support efforts to address public health challenges in Puerto Rico. As the Zika epidemic engulfed Puerto Rico beginning in late 2015, the team worked strategically with the community, as well as with academic and governmental partners, to address prevention and surveillance. PROTECT has focused particularly on hosting large-scale Zika information sessions for local healthcare providers to ensure they have accurate information for patient care. Thanks to a supplement from the NIEHS, PROTECT has also been given the opportunity to take part in the Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP) study, which will compare the birth outcomes of pregnant women infected by Zika to those of pregnant women who are not infected or had the virus prior to pregnancy.

A significant proportion of PROTECT’s community engagement activities have been directed towards the issue of preterm birth in Puerto Rico. Given this, the PROTECT team has been very encouraged by a drastic drop in the region’s preterm birth rate, which has gone from close to 20% in 2008 to 11.4% in 2015. The team looks forward to continuing to work toward reducing preterm birth in Puerto Rico.

PROTECT’s 2017 Check-In Series kicks off the new year with articles highlighting and reflecting upon the team’s accomplishments and findings since the center began, especially those that have come to fruition in the past year.