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Zika Funding Finally Approved by Congress

SEP 28, 2016 | BRIAN P. DUNLEAVY
Congressional leaders brokered a compromise Wednesday that keeps the government running, provides financial relief to the beleaguered city of Flint, Michigan, and finally funds Zika virus prevention efforts.
 
As part of the budget voting process to keep the government running through the end of the year, the Senate approved the new legislation which earmarks $1.1 billion for vaccine research, vector control, and other initiatives designed to hold the mosquito-borne virus in check. The legislators had rejected a similar bill the day before, because Democrats wanted money for Flint, where contaminated drinking water resulted in an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease. The new bill gives the city $170 million.
 
Both the House and the Senate had rejected several Zika funding-related measures since the start of the year. Last month, for example, Republicans rejected a Zika bill because it included funding for Planned Parenthood.
 
At the height of the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus in Brazil earlier this year, President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion in "extra" monies to finance research into the development of a vaccine as well as vector-control initiatives and support programs for pregnant women and others infected. Since then, more than 25,000 cases of Zika virus have been diagnosed in US states and territories, and the vast majority of these cases are in cash-strapped Puerto Rico. And, 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.
 
“The sad truth is that, for Zika virus, we are behind the curve, and much research is needed,” John A. Lednicky, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Global Health at the University of Florida told Contagion in an interview earlier this year. “But in the United States, those funds are still difficult to obtain. Aggravatingly, the United States tends to be reactive, not proactive, in its response to emerging infectious diseases, [and] sometimes by being reactive, our response comes late, when there is a widespread problem. The United States should definitely spend funds on education. First, the public needs to learn more about the virus and the dangers that it poses. Second, many travelers to destinations outside the United States still do not know the risks of Zika, and it is interesting to note that more than a few people who have returned to the United States with active Zika infections are missionaries or medical providers—or [people] we expect would know how to protect themselves from Zika.”
 
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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