National Partnership for Women & Families

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Obama requests $1.8B in emergency funds to combat Zika outbreak

The Obama administration on Monday requested more than $1.8 billion to combat the Zika virus globally and in the United States, STAT News reports (Kaplan, STAT News, 2/8).

The administration is scheduled to brief Senate leaders today on the Zika response (Korte/Szabo, USA Today, 2/8).

Background

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that has spread across Latin America over the past year. The virus is not easily diagnosed, and it does not have a cure or vaccine. It may be linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a condition in which an infant is born with an abnormally small head and brain. The condition is fatal for some infants, while others experience permanent disabilities.

The World Health Organization last week declared the ongoing Zika virus outbreak and its suspected link to microcephaly a public health emergency of international concern. The virus has spread to at least 25 nations in the Caribbean and Latin America.

In response to concerns about the virus' link to microcephaly, officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have directed women to avoid pregnancy. However, many Latin American and Caribbean countries have limited access to contraception. In addition, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela ban abortion except in cases when the woman's life is at risk, while the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua impose a complete ban on the procedure.

Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement directing nations affected by the Zika virus to remove bans on access to reproductive health care services (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/8).

Funding request details

The administration said the funding would be used to accelerate Zika vaccine research and diagnostic test development, bolster programs for mosquito control, inform pregnant women and their partners about the virus, educate providers about the virus and expand current response efforts.

According to STAT News, about $1.48 billion of the requested funds would be allocated to HHS to establish mosquito control programs, facilitate state responses to the virus, establish monitoring systems and bolster U.S. registries of birth defects. In addition, $250 million would go directly to CMS to fund a one-year increase in health service assistance to Puerto Rico; $210 million to launch an urgent emerging threat fund to address Zika and other disease outbreaks; and $200 million would go toward vaccine development and diagnostic testing for the Zika and chikungunya viruses. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development would also receive funding, according to STAT News.

Comments

In the announcement, the White House said, "There is much that we do not yet know about Zika and its relationship to the poor health outcomes that are being reported in Zika-affected areas ... We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus" (STAT News, 2/8).

Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), said Congress will consider the administration's Zika proposal within the context of the larger federal budget (USA Today, 2/8).