The President requested money for the fight against the Zika virus, still spreading worldwide and terrifying parents to be (and countless others) in February. In an election year that has seen, as of late June, more than 3,000 people in the states and U.S. territories (nearly 600 of which are pregnant women) diagnosed with the virus, the funding is still stuck in a Congress that would rather diddle and hold sit-down strikes while bugs carrying the disease bite.
Congress has made the $1.9 billion President Barack Obama requested for combating the public health emergency into a political football. The legislation has been tied to the debate over abortion, contraception and other issues as the virus spreads North into the U.S. from Latin America, where Zika resulted in thousands of babies being born with birth defects and some adults reportedly getting Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare nervous system problem that can result in muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
The Zika virus spreads primarily from bites of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Additionally, though, the virus can also be spread through unprotected sex. Symptoms of the disease, which has no cure or vaccine, are similar to a bad cold or flu (and last about as long). However, the disease in pregnant women is resulting in babies born with microcephaly (when the brain and skull fail to develop properly) and other severe fetal brain defects. The concern about birth defects has raised the issues of birth control and abortion throughout Latin American and now in Washington, D.C.
The anti-Zika funding bill that failed in Congress last week included a poison pill that would have blocked use of federal dollars for a Planned Parenthood affiliate’s facilities in Puerto Rico. Yes, the politicians were intent on stopping clinics in Puerto Rico, where two-thirds of those ill with Zika on American land live, from providing family planning and contraceptives.
Congress is out of session for the Fourth of July and then, given the upcoming two Presidential political conventions, there are few days for them to do the right thing and take action. For example, the House is only scheduled to meet for nine days this month and the Senate for only one more. Then, they are supposed to take their usual recess until after Labor Day.
President Obama urged Congress to quit playing politics on Zika and quickly hammer out an acceptable spending bill when they return after the July 4 holiday. “Congress should not adjourn until they get this done,” Obama said, concerned they might wait to act until after Labor Day.
In the interim, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded $25 million in funding to 53 state, local, and territorial health departments in areas that have the greatest Zika risk. The areas where the Aedes mosquitoes proliferate are predominantly in the southern U.S. and along the Eastern seaboard. Puerto Rico is already severely impacted, and Florida is expected to be a hot zone. Currently, New York has more cases than Florida, but they have resulted from people traveling elsewhere. As summer heats up, however, the areas where the mosquitoes are common will undoubtedly be harder hit. Hopefully, when before the bugs start to bite, Congress will stop diddling around and provide funding for prevention (mosquito abatement) and Zika treatment.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Roll Call: Obama: Congress Should Delay Summer Break to Pass Zika Bill
Miami Herald: Sen. Bill Nelson stretches truth about Zika bill and birth control
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): CDC Awards Funds for States and Territories to Prepare for Zika
Orlando Sentinel: End games in Congress — fund the fight against Zika: Where We Stand
New York Times: Zika Bill Is Blocked by Senate Democrats Upset Over Provisions
Artwork showing microcephaly courtesy of the CDC