Obama Asks for $1.9 Billion in Zika Funding

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By Jeannie Baumann

Feb. 22 — The White House formally submitted a request for $1.9 billion to combat the Zika virus to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Feb. 22.

The emergency supplemental appropriations request for fiscal year 2016 builds on a plan President Barack Obama announced two weeks ago and arrives in the House just days after Republican appropriators indicated they would rather use dollars that have been designated to the Ebola virus and other programs.

“My foremost priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans,” Obama wrote in the supplemental request. “This request supports the necessary steps to fortify our domestic health system, detect and respond to any potential Zika outbreaks at home, and to limit the spread in other countries.”

The mosquito-borne virus, which has been spreading throughout the Americas, has caused alarm and been declared a global health emergency in large part because of a link to a serious birth defect that leads to abnormally small heads and possible incomplete brain development.

Partnership With Governors

On the same day that Obama submitted the emergency supplemental request, the National Governors Association announced a partnership on Zika control with the administration. A significant portion of the president's request would be funneled to the states and U.S. territories to detect, prevent and control diseases spread by mosquitoes, according to recent testimony from Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scott Pattison, executive director of the NGA, told Bloomberg BNA that under the partnership, each governor will appoint a state official to oversee that state's Zika virus response and development of an action plan to prepare for an emergency. He said the idea is to get ahead of any public health emergency so that, in the event of an outbreak, each state is prepared and there are clear lines of communication.

“The hope is you want to get out in front of something like this,” he said.

The partnership announcement followed a meeting between Obama and nearly 40 governors on Feb. 22, which was also the final day of the NGA's winter meeting.

There have been 82 cases of the Zika virus contracted by U.S. residents who traveled abroad as of Feb. 17, according to the CDC's surveillance website. There have been locally acquired cases of Zika in Puerto Rico.

While there have been no cases of mainland U.S. residents acquiring Zika from a local mosquito, Arnold S. Monto, an epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan public health school, said if there are local cases in the U.S., facilitating partnerships at the state and local level will be critical to preventing the spread of that disease.

Mosquito Control: Local Issue

“Increasing efforts for mosquito control may be very important, and that's really a local issue,” Monto, whose expertise is the spread of infectious diseases and vaccine development, told Bloomberg BNA.

Under the Obama administration's plan to combat the virus, much of the supplemental funding would go to the CDC to support prevention and response strategies. Those activities include:

  •  supporting Zika virus readiness and response capacity in states and territories with mosquito populations that are known to transmit Zika virus;
  •  enhancing mosquito control programs; and
  •  deploying targeted prevention and education strategies with key populations and their health-care professionals.

    As part of its partnership, the governors' association issued a bulletin on what states can do in preparation and prevention of the Zika virus.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bna.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

    For More Information

    The White House emergency supplemental request is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/22/letter-president-zika-virus.

    The National Governors Association bulletin is available at http://src.bna.com/cL3.

    More information about Zika is available at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html. The White House's emergency request for funds is available at http://1.usa.gov/1W6O36P.