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HV Congressman Calls For Passage Of Funding To Combat Zika

Democratic New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney was in Orange County Thursday, urging the passage of nearly $2 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus. County officials joined him at Orange County Community College in Newburgh, supporting his call. 

Congressman Maloney joined local health experts at SUNY Orange, which is conducting mosquito surveillance for Orange County, to call for congressional passage of $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat Zika. The Zika virus is currently present in Latin America, the Pacific Islands and, as of July, the United States, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first locally-transmitted cases in two sections of Miami. And in August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico. Here’s Maloney.

“There is a not a Democratic or Republican way to fight a public health emergency. We need to fully fund this research. We need to do it in time to do us some good,” Maloney says. “Zika is a real and growing threat. It is here and it is affecting our fellow citizens, and we need to something about it. And we need to come together across layers of government and across party lines and get the politics out of it, and listen to the experts and fight this fire with some time to do us some good.”

He says Congress’s return to session September 6 offers another chance to pass the $1.9 billion in emergency funds requested by the Obama Administration in February to address the potential spread of Zika in the U.S.

“A colleague of mine in the House of Representatives said to me that he and his wife went to Miami and they’re planning on having a baby, and their doctor told them then they should wait to have a pregnancy for at least a year because they travelled to Miami. That’s nuts,” Maloney says. “All of us should not have to worry about where we travel in the United States when we’re planning a family when we can combat this through good research and through funding the scientists who are telling us they need certain resources to do this work.”

Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Eli Avila says the county has seven documented travel-related cases of Zika.

“Let us all keep in mind that when it relates to combating Zika virus, unborn lives matter, Puerto Rican lives matter, all lives matter if we’re to have a secure future,” Dr. Avila says.

He says while information concerning the potential devastating effects Zika has on pregnant women and the developing fetus is well-known, there is new information.

“What has not gotten much attention is the mounting evidence coming from the Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology which suggests that certain adult, adult brain cells may be especially vulnerable to infection by the Zika virus as well,” says Dr. Avila. “Among these are populations of cells that serve to replace lost or damaged neurons throughout adulthood and are also thought to be critical to learning and memory.”

Maloney points to Health and Human Services having informed Congress in August that it had to redirect an additional $81 million already appropriated for other purposes, including for other public health emergencies such as Ebola, to combat the Zika virus, including working on developing a vaccine.

“I don’t think we want to rob Peter to pay Paul when we’re choosing between Ebola and Zika. These are both serious viruses and we need to understand them,” Maloney says. “We should not be stumbling virus to virus, crisis to crisis.”

Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus also stood at the SUNY Newburgh campus supporting Maloney’s call.

“What we have here is we have a lot of concerned residents in Orange County that have called us and said ‘I’m pregnant, what do I do, should I go out, I’m afraid to get bitten by mosquitoes’ or  this, that, the other thing,” Neuhaus says. “It’s a serious concern for this country.”

Again, Maloney.

“And those of us who live in areas that have not yet had native cases of Zika, where we do not yet have mosquitoes infected with the Zika virus, we should be particularly interested in doing this research now, before we’re confronting this problem,” Maloney says. “This is a classic ‘stitch-in-time-saves-nine’ problem.”

In an Op-Ed piece in USA Today in August entitled “Drop the Politics, Put Health First,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called the Democrats obstructionists. He blamed Senate Democrats for derailing an agreed-upon compromise — a $1.1 billion bill with new and existing funds — in an election year. He also criticized the White House for turning a blind eye.

The CDC reports 2,722 Zika cases in the U.S. Of these, 35 are locally-acquired. Meanwhile, the New York state Department of Health reports 701 cases to date, all travel related.  

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