After a seven-week-long recess, Congress returns to work today, with the Senate expected to vote on funding to combat the Zika virus.
Before the break, the House passed $1.1 billion in funding, but the measure would restrict funding to Planned Parenthood, even though the primary means of Zika prevention is family planning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Senate rejected the House proposal in July, citing concerns that the measure could cut off family planning services to those most vulnerable to Zika—especially in Puerto Rico—and over provisions that would loosen environmental regulations on pesticides.
The Senate is once again expected to vote on the House’s $1.1 billion package. But some Congressional leaders are pushing Members to abandon the House deal for the original $1.1 billion Zika package passed by the Senate. That package does not contain funding restrictions for women’s health clinics. A number of public health experts, including the World Health Organization and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have concluded that Zika prevention efforts must include access to family planning.
The Zika virus, which is typically transmitted through mosquito bites but can be sexually transmitted, 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.
As of August 31, there were over 15,000 cases of the Zika virus in the U.S. and its territories, with every state in the nation, except Wyoming, reporting at least one case of Zika virus disease. Most cases are still travel-related, but at least 35 cases were locally acquired from mosquitoes in the U.S. All of the locally acquired cases have occurred in Florida. The Florida Department of Health has identified two areas in Miami-Dade County with Zika-infected mosquitoes: Wynwood and a section of Miami Beach.
Both the House and Senate Zika funding proposals are less than the $1.9 billion in funding identified as necessary by public health experts, and originally requested by President Obama in February. Last month, President Obama reallocated $81 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to address the Zika virus. This funding is expected to run out by the end of September. In a letter last week, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell stated that HHS had “exhausted our ability” to provide emergency Zika funds.
A survey released today shows that three-quarters of Americans support increased federal funding to combat the Zika virus. The Feminist Majority Foundation has asked individuals to contact their Representative and Senators today to call on Congress to pass Zika funding without cutting off access to women’s healthcare.