House approves $622 million Zika funding package

capitol interior
capitol interior

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The US House of Representatives yesterday approved a $622.1 million Zika funding bill designed to support key outbreak activities through September, much less than the $1.9 billion emergency measure President Obama asked Congress for in February.

In other developments, new efforts are under way in the Americas to teach people about Zika virus and how to help curb transmission, including one featuring Cartoon Network superheroes that targets kids.

House funding taps Ebola money

The House bill passed by a vote of 241 to 184, coming 1 day after the Senate approved a compromise bill of $1.1 billion intended to fund Zika response efforts until September 2017. President Obama has signaled that he would veto the House's version of the bill, because it doesn't include enough support and diverts money away from important Ebola response efforts.

In a statement after the vote yesterday, House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said the House's funding plan helps protect the American people in the most direct way possible and provides money for critical priorities such as mosquito control and vaccine development. He added that combined with the Obama Administration's earlier funding shift—most of it from existing Ebola money—the total funding with the House bill would total $1.2 billion.

"We will now work with the Senate to get needed resources to the president's desk," he said.

The Obama Administration and top federal health officials have been pressing Congress to replenish the repurposed Ebola money and to provide the $1.9 billion in full support.

Superhero campaign, more community engagement

Invoking superhero help in raising awareness about the importance of battling mosquitoes, Cartoon Network Latin America is launching a "Mission Zika" campaign, which consists of public service announcements that use characters such as the Power Puff Girls to entice young people to help stop the spread of the virus and to protect themselves by, for example, emptying or covering water-containing flower pots or pet bowls.

The effort is a collaboration between the network, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). In March, PAHO unveiled public service announcements that featured Muppets characters to teach children about their role in curbing Zika transmission.

PAHO director Carissa Etienne, MD, said in the statement, "As children learn the facts from this Cartoon Network campaign, they can help in our effort to reduce the number of mosquitoes in the Americas, we can help prevent disease and save lives."

In another Zika messaging development, PAHO yesterday announced a new $1.5 million collaboration to educate communities, especially women, about preventing Zika virus transmission. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the effort, which will also involve the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDC Foundation.

The health campaign will focus on identifying knowledge gaps and enlisting community help with mosquito control strategies to protect pregnant women. The partnership includes a multimedia campaign and community events led by the CDC and aimed at Puerto Rico and other affected US territories.

WHO and CDC updates

In its weekly update on Zika virus today, the WHO said its risk assessment hasn't changed over the past week and that geographic spread continues to expand in areas where Aedes mosquitoes are found.

The group acknowledged several recent developments, including local transmission in Argentina, German's first sexually transmitted Zika case, and suspected microcephaly cases reported from Spain and Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the CDC in its weekly case update reported several more Zika illnesses from local transmission in some US territories and from travel-related infections in residents of the US mainland.

Affected territories reported 134 more cases, lifting the total to 832; most of the cases are in Puerto Rico. US states reported 41 more travel-related Zika infections, putting the total at 544 as of yesterday. The CDC didn't include case numbers for illnesses in pregnant women.

See also:

May 18 Ryan statement

May 18 House appropriations committee statement

May 19 PAHO statement on Cartoon Network collaboration

May 18 PAHO statement on risk communication collaboration

May 19 WHO Zika situation report

May 19 CDC Zika update

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