White House steps up call for action on Zika funds

White House
White House

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The White House is stepping up its calls for Congress to pass President Obama's $1.9 billion emergency funding request for the Zika virus battle, with two top officials outlining their concerns in a letter to leaders yesterday.

Obama first request for the funding support came on Feb 8, which was met with calls from Republican lawmakers to transfer unused money from the Ebola response before approving any new support for the country's Zika response. The administration earlier this month then shifted about $589 million in Ebola funds to pay for critical Zika actions, but so far little progress has been made toward clearing Zika-specific funds.

Members of the Senate last week said talks were under way to perhaps attach the Zika emergency request to a spending bill for a vote on the Senate floor.

On Monday a group of Democrats in the House of Representative stepped up pressure on their peers, announcing that they had introduced an emergency supplemental bill to address the Zika virus threat.

Push for quick passage

In the letter yesterday to Sen Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan and National Security Advisor Susan Rice said 64 days had passed since Obama's formal request and that the public health threat from Zika virus has increased.

They wrote that although the shift in funding has allowed the administration to take critical first steps, it's not enough. They also warned that the lack of emergency supplemental support from Congress means states won't be able to hire staff needed for mosquito control.

Donovan and Rice also warned that the lack of funding could hamper the next phase of vaccine development and progress on better diagnostic tests. They said the Ebola funds need to be replaced.

"This will ensure that we have sufficient contingency funds to address unanticipated needs related to both Zika and Ebola," they wrote. "There are still many unknowns about the science and scale of the outbreak and how it will impact mothers, babies, and health systems domestically and abroad."

They said they were pleased to hear of recent bipartisan support for providing emergency funding but expressed concern about the adequacy and speed of the response. Also, they pressed Congress not to bog the request down by wrapping it into the appropriations process. "We urge you to pass free-standing emergency supplemental funding legislation at the level requested by the Administration before Congress leaves down for the Memorial Day recess."

Microcephaly up in Brazil, Colombia

Meanwhile, Brazil's health ministry said 78 new suspected microcephaly cases have been reported, according to its regular update, translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary (AFD), an infectious disease news blog. The pace of new reports has slowed over the past several weeks, and health officials are investigating a total of 3,710 suspected cases.

Thirty more earlier-suspected cases of the condition involving small head size have been confirmed as related to Zika virus infection, and 91 earlier cases have been ruled out, according to the report. The overall number of confirmed cases is 1,198, which span 22 of Brazil's 26 states.

Elsewhere, Colombia's health ministry has confirmed two more Zika-related microcephaly cases, raising that number to four, the New York Times reported yesterday. At a briefing, officials said there were investigating 22 more suspected cases.

City-level, diagnostics, and Olympics developments

  • Baltimore officials yesterday unveiled the city's Zika virus response plan, which will involve restarting mosquito surveillance and control programs that have been inactive since 2007, according to a city press release. Also, the city will distribute Zika prevention kits to 9,000 pregnant women and conduct an extensive public education campaign about the virus.

  • Researchers from California and Nicaragua reported promising findings for a single-reaction multiplex test designed to detect and differentiate Zika, chikungunya, and dengue viruses. They described their findings in an Apr 25 report in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

  • South Korea's Olympics committee today introduced athlete uniforms that are designed to protect against Zika virus, the Associated Press reported. The design features long sleeves and long pants, made of fabric treated with insect repellent. The clothing is to be worn during ceremonies, while training, and in the athlete's village.

See also:

Apr 26 White House letter

Apr 27 AFD post

Apr 26 New York Times story

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