Fighting the Zika virus:
Republicans in Congress are refusing to allocate emergency funding to fight the Zika virus because, they say, the Obama administration could transfer money that was previously budgeted for the response to Ebola. This is a senseless and dangerous idea.
Last month, President Obama asked Congress to provide $1.8 billion to help research the Zika virus, develop a vaccine, give assistance to countries like Brazil that are on the front lines of the outbreak and prevent cases in the United States. This is a modest sum and there is no good reason for Congress to refuse to allocate the money. A delay could put many thousands of people at risk. There have already been Zika cases in Puerto Rico and other territories and the virus has been observed in people in Texas, Florida and other states after they traveled to affected countries.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, first identified in Uganda, for which there is no cure or vaccine. Though infection is generally accompanied by mild symptoms, the outbreak appears to be linked to a big increase in microcephaly, an irreversible condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads.
Health experts say Zika may also be causing an increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder that causes the immune system to attack nerves. Directing the administration to reallocate money from Ebola to Zika would rob one public health emergency to deal with another.
Ebola has not been eradicated; there were new cases reported in Sierra Leone as recently as January. Public health experts have said shifting money would hurt efforts to develop and stockpile an effective Ebola vaccine as well as delay efforts to improve the public health systems in African countries. Zika could become a much bigger problem later this year as mosquitoes move north with warmer weather.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects thousands of cases in pregnant women in Puerto Rico, which is in the middle of a major economic and financial crisis.
Health experts say they fully expect that mosquitoes and people will increasingly bring the virus to the mainland, especially to humid states like Florida and Texas. Zika can also be transmitted through sex, which could be another big problem.
The Obama administration has been trying hard not to make the same mistakes with Zika that it made with its slow response to Ebola. The C.D.C. has devoted hundreds of people and some of its labs to the virus.
A vaccine is under development and could be ready for testing later this year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, though it could take years to produce an approved vaccine.
Such government programs cost money, and the administration is already having to divert resources from other diseases, like dengue fever. That’s why Congress needs to allocate dedicated funds for Zika now.
—New York Times
New York, New York