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America's Leading Physicians Urge Congress to Pass Zika Legislation

SEP 17, 2016 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
Using the mainstream media as the medium for their message, some of the nation’s leading physicians urged Congress to pass a “clean, bipartisan funding measure” to fight the spread of Zika, both in the United States and abroad, and to “protect pregnant women” from the complications associated with the virus.
 
On September 13, during a conference call for the press hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Thomas Gellhaus, MD, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Karen Remley, MD, executive director and CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); and Beth Bell, MD, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) jointly called for national legislators to pass a supplementary funding bill to finance efforts to establish Zika education and prevention programs as well as initiatives to develop vaccines against the disease. President Obama submitted a request to Congress earlier this year to allocate $1.9 billion in emergency funding to the effort, but legislators have yet to approve it.
 
“For the health of the women we care for, we urge Congress to act swiftly to pass legislation and send it to the president’s desk for signature,” Dr. Gellhaus said on the call. “We need to act now and we need to act together.”
 
Dr. Bell added that failing to pass a Zika bill “needlessly puts the American people at risk and will result in more Zika infections and potentially more babies born with birth defects. We hope Congress will do the right thing.”
 
Zika, of course, has been linked with microcephaly, a birth defect, and other serious complications. Through September 7, more than 2,900 confirmed cases of the virus have been identified in the United States, 24 of which were sexually transmitted. Only 43 of the cases, all in Florida, have been transmitted via mosquito bites sustained in the continental United States. The rest of the cases resulted from bites sustained as a result of travel to areas of the Caribbean and South America, where recent outbreaks of the virus were first reported in 2014. There have been nearly 16,000 confirmed cases of Zika in US territories, including Puerto Rico.
 
“We will not have any additional funding to help Florida continue to respond to local transmissions,” Dr. Bell said on the call. “There is also the issue of diagnosis. We are not going to have funding to work on improved, faster and more precise diagnosis and testing of Zika.”
 
President Obama has been blunt in his criticism of members of Congress in the past over their failure to come together on this issue. The House of Representatives approved a measure in June that would have allocated $1.1 billion toward Zika prevention, but the Senate never voted on it. The White House would have likely vetoed the bill anyway, given that included provisions to defund Planned Parenthood.
 
Earlier this month, Thomas Frieden, MD, executive director of the CDC, said that the agency is “essentially out of money” to fight the mosquito-borne virus.
 
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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