In the wake of Congress’ refusal to pass a Zika funding bill before their five-week August recess, President Obama announced last week the administration’s intent to reallocate $81 million from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help combat the Zika virus.
The funding package the President has asked for would provide resources to speed up the development of a vaccine, provide pregnant women and others with greater access to blood tests, and ensure that communities have the resources to address the virus. The funding is particularly crucial right now. The CDC reports that the U.S. has now seen its first cases of locally-acquired Zika infection.
The programs affected by the forced reallocation include biomedical research and antipoverty healthcare initiatives. The President already shifted $589 million in Ebola funding over to the Zika initiative in April. In addition $34 million from the National Institute of Health’s budget to find treatments for diabetes and cancer will be transferred to the Zika fight. This money is expected to only last through September.
In February, the President requested that Congress provide $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding. A number of Republicans insisted that any bill include provisions that would loosen environmental regulations on pesticides and deny Planned Parenthood any Zika-related funds. Advocates and others criticized this strategy, noting that reproductive health providers are in a unique position to assist those most vulnerable to Zika, including pregnant women and women of reproductive age.
The Zika virus has been linked to poor pregnancy outcomes, including microcephaly, a condition where the brain does not develop properly causing a newborn’s head to be smaller than expected. Microcephaly is linked to severe physical and intellectual developmental delays.
Public health experts, including the World Health Organization and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have all agreed that Zika prevention efforts must include access to contraception. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also listed family planning as a “primary strategy” to reduce Zika-related pregnancy complications.
As of August 10, the CDC reported that 1,962 people in the United States have contracted the virus, along with an additional 6,618 in U.S. territories, primarily in Puerto Rico. Those numbers include 510 pregnant women as of August 4; at least fifteen babies have been born in the U.S. with birth defects related to Zika, according to HHS.
Florida is the only state to have locally-acquired cases of Zika, meaning that virus is being spread locally by mosquitos in the area. All of these cases are in the Miami area. The CDC has issued guidance for people living in or traveling to the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.