A New York congresswoman is calling for her colleagues to approve federal funds to combat the Zika virus. The head of the March of Dimes is echoing that call.
Representative Nita Lowey, the Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, supports approving 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.
“Every day that passes is a missed opportunity to protect pregnant American women who could become at risk of contracting Zika,” Lowey says.
She blames Republicans for prolonging such risk.
“Finally, last month, they proposed a paltry amount, less than one-third of what public health experts deem essential to combat the threat, and would take the money from the efforts to prevent another Ebola epidemic,” says Lowey. “That’s even less funding than the Senate compromise for $1.1 billion in emergency funds.”
Lowey refers to a Republican-sponsored bill that passed the House mid-May, the Zika Response Appropriations Act, a $622 million measure that does not propose emergency funding. On June 8, the Senate agreed to negotiate with the House on Zika funding. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that the Senate’s motion to go to conference is an important step toward ensuring that the government has the resources to combat the spread of Zika. Ryan’s statement continues, “As House and Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle work to craft a responsible package that outlines specific appropriations, the administration will continue to have the money necessary to address this crisis now. In fact, at no point has there been a funding shortage. That will not change. We look forward to putting a bill on the president’s desk.” Lowey talks about a bill she introduced at the end of April.
“Congress must act urgently to protect the public. That’s why I’ve introduced bill that reflects the president’s request. And I’m pleased to serve on the House-Senate Conference Committee to negotiate a final Zika funding bill,” Lowey says. “I intend to fight to provide the full Administration request which would assist healthcare providers, develop diagnostic tests and a vaccine, and assist state and local mosquito control efforts.”
There is no antiviral medication for Zika, which can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy or at the time of birth, with severe birth defects possible. The virus also can be spread via sexual contact or blood. Southern states are most at risk for local transmission by the type of mosquito that most commonly carries Zika. However, a related mosquito that has been shown to carry Zika can be found in southern New York, the Asian tiger mosquito. Dr. Edward McCabe is chief medical officer for the White Plains-headquartered March of Dimes, which focuses on preventing birth defects and infant mortality. He says New York is at high risk for Zika.
“And we have a very high number of travelers from areas where Zika is circulating, like Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean,” says McCabe. “To date, there have been 127 cases of Zika diagnosed in New York state, all among people who were infected in other countries and then came here. That’s 22 percent of all cases in the United States have been in New York state.”
As of June 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, none of the 691 Zika cases in the U.S. were locally acquired; all contracted Zika outside the country. And while McCabe applauds New York’s six-step action plan to combat Zika, he says state-level plans are not enough.
“The March of Dimes and our partners are calling on Congress to pass emergency spending legislation to give the CDC, other federal agencies, and states the resources they need to combat the Zika virus,” says McCabe.
Lowey, whose 17th district includes portions of Westchester and all of Rockland, says the bulk of any funding allotted for combating Zika would support CDC efforts such as monitoring mosquito populations, conducting medical research, and implementing health infrastructure to detect and respond to any outbreak.