Senior administration officials today detailed current efforts to prevent the spread of Zika virus within the United States and urged Congress to approve additional emergency funding before the disease and its vectors proliferate during the warmer seasons.
In addition, Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced that approximately $589 million from other areas of the administrative budget will be repurposed to fuel ongoing preventive efforts. However, he said, $510 million of this funding will be pulled from resources previously allocated to combat Ebola virus and will weaken efforts in West Africa without additional support.
“We submitted to Congress a request for emergency supplemental funding in February to fortify our efforts to combat and stay ahead of the disease, but Congress has yet to act,” Donovan said during a press conference. “Nearly 2 months have passed, and the situation continues to grow more critical. Today, we reiterate our call on the Congress to take immediate action to provide the full requested amount.”
The $589 million will be used to support Zika prevention efforts that are either ongoing or time sensitive, Donovan; Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; and Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of state for management and resources; said during the conference. Among these are the development of new diagnostic equipment; the outfitting and repurposing of clinical labs in affected island territories and the continental U.S.; initiation of clinical trials of vaccine candidates; and clinician, public health and community education. Many of these efforts require partnerships with international organizations, such as WHO or the Pan American Health Organization, and will need to be conducted before the start of rainy seasons in Central America and the Caribbean when vector mosquitoes are most prevalent, they said.
“Without the full amount of emergency supplemental funding, many activities that need to start right now would have to be delayed, or curtailed, or stopped within months,” Donovan said. “The full supplemental request is also needed to replenish the amounts we are now spending from our Ebola accounts to fund Zika-related activities. This will ensure that we have sufficient contingency funds to address unanticipated needs related to both Zika and Ebola.”
As of April 1, there were 672 confirmed cases of Zika within the U.S., 64 of which were pregnant women, Burwell said. Efforts have been primarily focused on regions demonstrating local transmission — including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa — but Burwell said local transmission during the spring and summer months also will be likely in the continental U.S. When taking these developments into account alongside the recent flare-ups of Ebola virus in West Africa and the millions of Americans regularly traveling to affected areas, she said that immediate and sustained efforts can only be adequately supported through the proposed supplemental funding.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell
“We’ve made important progress to keep Americans safe from these public health threats here and abroad, but these efforts need to continue and can’t be stopped or shortchanged,” Burwell said. “We face two real global health challenges, Ebola and Zika, and we don’t have an option to set one aside in the name of the other. We want to encourage Congress to act quickly to ensure that we stay ahead of both, and do everything in our power to protect the American people.” – by Dave Muoio