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Tel: (212) 305-8060
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Dear Friends:

Welcome to the Columbia University Medical Center's Office of Government & Community Affairs (GCA) web site.  Government & Community Affairs represents the interests of Columbia University Medical Center before the federal, state, and city governments.  This office also develops and implements programs with the communities surrounding Columbia University Medical Center and serves as the primary liaison between the Medical Center and the external community. 

GCA coordinates information on services and programs available at the Medical Center campus.  The office responds to and engages community stakeholders, local residents and community based providers as they seek to learn more about the various medical center programs, services, events and activities.  We work with various elected officials, medical associations and other organizations to advocate and educate policy makers on areas ofinterest of our faculty and staff.

If you have any need or desire to work with elected officials or community based organizations, I strongly encourage you to contact us to see if we may be of assistance.



Ross A. Frommer

Vice President and Associate Dean



Story and photos by Gregg McQueen

A forum was held for the community.

Dr. Dyan Summers may have just received her doctorate in nursing practice from Columbia University School of Nursing  – but years ago, she was at the forefront of identifying a troubling disease now provoking global alarm.

In 2013, one of her patients, a recreational traveler, had returned from a three-month trip to South America with a full-body rash, fever and conjunctivitis.

“At first, I was quite certain he had Dengue fever,” said Summers, who has served for over 15 years as a certified nurse practitioner specializing in tropical medicine.

The patient told Summers he had read about an outbreak of Zika in the region he had just traveled to.

Despite her experience, which included travel to 37 countries, she noted that up until that point she had little knowledge of the virus.

“While my assistant drew blood, I was looking up info on Zika and calling the CDC,” said Summers, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

The Zika case was soon confirmed by the federal health agency, and Summers later wrote an article for the Journal of Travel Medicine.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito carries the Zika virus.

The experience was shared this past Thurs., June 2nd, at a community health forum sponsored by the Columbia University Medical Center’s Office of Government and Community Affairs.

The event was intended to provide residents with the latest information regarding the mosquito-borne illness, which was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) on February 1.

Though cases have been rare in the United States, Zika has been much more rampant in Latin America, with outbreaks reported in more than 40 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Pregnant women are considered to be at the highest risk, as Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with a smaller than normal head and brain.

The June 2 forum was open to the public and offered Spanish translation for attendees.

Ricky Wong, Director of Community Affairs for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), reported that the latest count of Zika cases in New York City was about 120, including 18 pregnant women.

“The good news is that this mosquito is not here in New York City,” said Wong, referring to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus. “All of the Zika cases in the city are travel-related.”

Because many residents visit the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries during the summer months, it is particularly important that they are aware of the importance of protecting themselves from Zika, said Kiran Thakur, MD, ‎Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center.

The Dominican Republic now has more than 2,000 suspected cases of Zika, Thakur noted.

She recommended that travelers to Zika-prone areas wear long clothing and use insect repellent during their trip.

“Prevention is the key,” stated Thakur. “Preventing mosquito bites is the way we’re going to control this virus.”

Zika can be transmitted from mosquito bites, blood transfusions or sexual contact.

“We want to get the word out that this is a sexually transmitted disease,” Thakur said.

A baby with microcephaly (left) compared to a baby with a typical head size.

She added that there are several myths floating around about the Zika virus, including that the disease can be contracted from larvicide or vaccines.

Prior to 2007, only sporadic cases of Zika were reported. That year, the first outbreak of the disease was reported on Yap Island in the South Pacific.

Most people infected with Zika — 70 to 80 percent, according to Thakur — will show no symptoms at all.

Those who do get sick usually experience mild symptoms, including rash, and flu-like ailments such as fever, fatigue and joint pain.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat the Zika virus.

Dr. Rafal Tokarz, of the Center for Infection and Immunity, Mailman School of Public Health, explained that his center has been working on an improved diagnostic test for Zika.

Tokarz said that the simultaneous circulation of other mosquito-borne illnesses such as Dengue and Chikungunya in other countries has posed a challenge in terms of detection, as those diseases are genetically similar, which sometimes leads to false-positives on tests. Those diseases are all carried by the same mosquito.

The Center for Infection and Immunity recently developed an enhanced test to better differentiate between the illnesses.

“Effectively, in one quick test you can detect Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and West Nile,” Tokarz said.

Throughout 2016, the NYC Department of Health will test mosquito pools for presence of Zika virus.

“Our center has entered into a partnership with the city to assist with this,” said Tokarz. “We’ll be able to test up to 90 mosquito pools in a 24-hour period.”

To prevent mosquito breeding, Wong said that the city treats large bodies of water, generally in non-populated areas, with larvicide, said Wong. The Department of Health will collect mosquitos from water, he said, and do testing to see if there’s a trace of a disease like West Nile.

“If so, we spray a low-level pesticide, and we generally give a community 48 hours’ notice,” Wong explained.

Because of the risk posed to pregnant women, city health officials recommend that New Yorkers traveling to Zika-infected areas use birth control during trip and for eight weeks afterward.

Pregnant women face greater risk.

“You should also consult with your healthcare provider before and after trip to Zika area,” Wong said.

When an attendee questioned Wong what the city was doing to get the word out about Zika, especially in immigrant communities, he responded that DOHMH has done presentations for community boards, Spanish–language interviews and issued backpack information for local school children.

After the forum, Washington Heights resident Anna, who is several months pregnant, said she is extremely concerned about Zika.

“I’m really nervous about it,” she remarked. “But the information I learned here helped me understand things better.”

Maria Luna said she also found the forum useful.

“It’s really important that our community is informed about what’s going on with Zika,” she said. Luna recalled her childhood in the Dominican Republic and how the government routinely sprayed the insect-control pesticide DDT to curb mosquito problems.

“It seems important that they develop a way to eliminate the mosquitos, safer than the way the used to back then,” Luna said.

Summers pointed out the immigrant community can be proactive in spreading the word about the disease.

“Everybody here can take that role on,” she insisted. “Dominicans can tell their neighbors about Zika and help dispel the myths.”

As for the 2013 patient who had proven to be one of the first confirmed cases of Zika?

“[He] fully recovered,” Summers reported.

For more information on the Zika virus, please visit http://on.nyc.gov/1nNrCsP or call 311.





The 32nd Medieval Festival is Sunday, September 18, 2016 from 11:30am-6pm in Ft. Tryon Park and volunteers are needed throughout the day at the largest annual NYC Parksevent. If you would like to volunteer, please email meatmcollinswhidc@aol.com.

About 80 volunteers helped last year and we will need that many again. Please choose from these opportunities.

• Volunteers Check-in Assistant (4 people needed, one per shift 7am-11am; 11am-2pm; 2pm-5pm; 5pm-8pm)

• Tent Set-up (12 or more people from 6:30am-9:30am)

• Tent Breakdown (12 or more people from 6:30pm-8:30pm)

• Information Booth (As many as possible in shifts from 11am-7pm)

• Hay Drop-offs (10 people from 7am-10am)

• Booth Decorators (10 or more needed starting at 9am)

• Costume Tent (10 people needed in shifts starting at 8:30am)

• Traffic/Parking (8 people needed starting at 7am)

Virtual Tour of the Washington Heights & Inwood communities:


MCNF Annual Appeal  To donate click on the pledge card, print and mail completed form to:

Office of Government & Community Affairs

51 Audubon Avenue8th Floor, Suite 800New York, N.Y. 10032

Medical Center Neighborhood Fund Brochure

Research Means Hope

Support Funding for the National

Institutes of Health



Last updated 6/22/2016

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