Schumer: Fight To Prevent Zika Virus Is Dramatically Underfunded

Jun 20, 2016

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Albany Medical Center today, where he called for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus.

Calling for an aggressive campaign against Zika, the New York Democrat says the situation has reached a critical level. Schumer says the House “only” approved $600 million to fight Zika, some of that money taken from the Ebola Prevention program.   "And you say well, it just affects South America or the southern U.S.  No! By summertime, the two mosquitoes that can carry Zika, Aedes Egypti and Aedes Tiger, can get as far north as the Capital Region and even further north."

“Simply put, anyone repellent to this emergency funding plan isn’t serious about beating Zika. When it comes to fighting this epidemic, a stitch in time will save nine – so I will do everything in my power to make sure emergency funding is delivered.”
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Albany Medical Center CEO Jim Barba categorizes Zika as a "very pressing public health issue."  "Zika, unlike some of the other terrible viruses with which we've dealt in the past, HIV, AIDS, etc., does not present in a person affected in a very serious way. So it may be that those who have been affected don't even know about it. But it has a profoundly deleterious effect on any woman who is pregnant, on the fetus."

Albany County Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen says in recent weeks, scientists have confirmed that the Zika virus is the cause of the devastating birth defect microcephaly. "There's currently no treatment, and no vaccine available for Zika virus."

Whalen believes formulating a response on the local level should be a top priority.  Barba adds that after three months of intense research on Zika:  "we still can't say whether there is any time during the pregnancy when it is safe for the fetus."

  • According to the New York Times, the virus was first discovered in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947, but wasn’t common in the West until an outbreak was found in Brazil last May.


Schumer says more than 800 Americans are infected with the virus.  "In the state of New York, 180 cases of Zika confirmed just the other day, and they're popping up across New York state, upstate and down. Last week it was revealed that an individual in Albany County and another in Schenectady County were diagnosed with Zika."

Whalen counts 19 pregnant women in that statewide count. She says a fully-funded federal initiative will enable local health departments to enhance virus readiness and response capacity, to limit potential clusters in the United States. "National funding is essential and will pave the way to continue urgently important scientific work, including accelerated efforts around prevention and control of Zika virus."

Schumer says Congress should approve the funding now, before the epidemic spreads and more cases show up in the United States come mosquito season.

Previously, Schumer called for a three-point federal plan aimed at containing the Zika virus:

  • First, Schumer called on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to prioritize and increase its involvement in Zika-affected countries abroad in order to better prevent, contain and treat the virus. USAID is one of the lead government entities that works overseas to help improve global health, help societies prevent and recover from conflicts, and more. 
  • Second, Schumer called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to focus resources to expeditiously develop a vaccine and to work alongside the private sector in doing so. Currently, there is no cure, treatment or vaccine available for Zika, which can be extremely serious to pregnant women because of possible birth defects—like microcephaly--linked to the virus.
  • Lastly, Schumer successfully called on the U.S. to push the World Health Organization (WHO) to publicly declare a health emergency. On February 1st, the WHO official declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern soon after Schumer’s push. Schumer has also called for a Zika Czar to better help fight the virus before it spreads further and more cases are brought to the United States.

Protect yourself from Zika and other viruses spread by mosquitoes:

  • The best way to prevent Zika and other viruses spread through mosquito bites is to take steps to prevent mosquito bites. If you are pregnant, strictly follow these steps:
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
    • Stay in places with air conditioning and use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
    • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. When used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
    • Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.

For more information about how to prevent mosquito bites, see Mosquito Bite Prevention (United States)[PDF - 2 pages].

What we know: