The White House has asked Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of Zika, funding programs to study the virus and control the mosquitoes that spread it, both at home and abroad.
The Washington Times reports that the proposal includes funding for monitoring the spread of Zika and studying its link to birth defects and the Guillain-Barre syndrome. It also adds funding to the Medicaid program in Puerto Rico (where the virus appears to be spreading) to develop better diagnostic tests and create an effective vaccine.
The U.S. Agency for International Development would receive $335 million of the requested funding to support mosquito control programs, training for healthcare workers, and public education programs abroad.
Another $41 million would be given to the State Department to assist American citizens in Zika outbreak regions and provide support to such international health agencies as the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, and UNICEF.
The Washington Times predicts a receptive audience for the White House request in Congress, since Congress has been prodding President Obama to start taking Zika more seriously. Senate Democrats sent Obama a letter on Friday asking him to take “robust and aggressive actions” against the virus.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Congress would review the President’s request, adding that “given limited federal resources, we expect the administration will brief Congress on their funding priorities” at a briefing scheduled for Tuesday.
ABC News reported that two healthcare experts would be available to answer reporters’ questions about Zika at the regular White House press briefing: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Obama has been struggling to find the right tone for addressing the Zika issue. In an interview on CBS This Morning on Monday to discuss his funding request to Congress, Obama said that “there shouldn’t be panic on this” because Zika is “not something where people are going to die from it,” but he added that it was “something we have to take seriously.”
“The good news is this is not like Ebola. People don’t die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don’t even know that they have it,” the President continued. “What we now know, though, is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant.”
One of the things that makes Zika so dangerous is that “people get it and don’t even know that they have it.” It is difficult to monitor and control a disease that goes unnoticed by over half the people who carry it. Scientists are still learning about new ways Zika can be transmitted between infected people. It is an insidious threat that should be addressed before it gets into the blood supply or before mosquitoes in North America begin spreading it rapidly.