Three months after President Barack Obama requested congressional funding to fight the Zika virus, the House of Representatives has authorized $622 million in aid. But will congressional funding be too little, too late for those fighting Zika?
The sum represents less than half of the amount requested by the president, prompting a veto threat. President Obama’s emergency supplemental appropriations request asked for $1.9 billion to “to fortify our domestic health system, detect and respond to any potential Zika outbreaks at home, and to limit the spread in other countries.” The Senate has offered its own bill, proposing $1.1 billion for the 2017 fiscal year.
Frustrated by Congress’ slow response, the White House transferred $500 million for Zika aid earlier this month from funds intended to fight Ebola. Politicking and congressional red tape could still delay access to preventive aid and disease treatment, however. Additional aid may be solidified via a congressional conference committee, where members of the House and Senate must find consensus on funding details.
Meanwhile, summer nears. The hundreds of U.S. citizens who have contracted the disease thus far have presumably done so through foreign travel to affected countries. But soon the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the primary carrier of the disease, may begin to transmit the disease locally.
For pregnant women, this prospect is especially dangerous. Babies born from affected mothers may suffer microcephaly, which causes infants to have abnormally small heads. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that other birth defects may also result. The disease already affects nearly 300 pregnant women in the United States.
Mitchell Goldstein, MD, neonatologist and medical director of the National Coalition for Infant Health, summed up the concerns of anxious health care providers and parents across the country. “The federal government has the well-being of an extremely vulnerable population in its hands,” he explained. “On this issue, parents and physicians appeal to Congress with one voice: Act swiftly and act wisely. The birth defects caused by the Zika virus have a life-long, even generational, impact.”
Proposed funding could help with mosquito control as well as research for a Zika vaccine and health care services for affected families. The president has urged Congress to reach consensus on funding legislation before they adjourn for Memorial Day.