US president Barack Obama is set to ask his congress for $1.8bn in emergency funding, in order to combat the lethal Zika virus. This money will enable the development of mosquito control programmes, vaccine research and will improve health care for pregnant women with a low-income.
The new request comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that its emergency operation centre has been put on a “Level 1” status – its highest level of activation – as a result of the outbreak.
The CDC has only put its operations centre at Level 1 three times in the past, once during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, once during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and once after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama’s proposal entails giving $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America and the Caribbean – which is where the Zika virus is spreading most rapidly.
Last week, the World Health Organisation declared an international public health emergency. They also warned that the mosquito-derived virus is strongly suspected to be the cause of numerous cases of microcephaly, a neurological disorder that afflicts the babies of pregnant women with the virus. If the virus infects a pregnant woman their baby is likely to be born with an abnormally small head and brain.
In an interview held on 7 February, the US president revealed “And so we are going to be putting up a legislative proposal to Congress to resource both the research on vaccines and diagnostics but also helping in terms of public health systems”.
In a slightly reassuring message to American citizens, Obama added, “The good news is this is not like Ebola. People don’t die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don’t even know they have it. What we know, though, is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant”.
Obama is scheduled to submit his 2017 budget to Congress on Tuesday however if the Congress approves the emergency-funding request, the money would not be available in his fiscal year. The Obama administration will be briefing senate leaders on the Zika response at the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday.
TNT Health Billy Rooney