Weekly Columns

The Fight Against Zika

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Washington, May 18, 2016 | Tiffany Haverly (202-226-8072) | comments

I am extremely concerned about the uptick in patients being diagnosed with the Zika virus, particularly because of the possibility that a pregnant woman infected with the virus can develop a serious birth defect called Microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where a newborn baby’s head is smaller than average. This can occur because a baby’s brain has not fully developed during pregnancy, or – in some cases – when a baby’s head stops growing after birth. Microcephaly can be mild or severe, with some babies experiencing issues like seizures, hearing or vision problems, difficulty feeding, intellectual disabilities or developmental delays.

What we know about the Zika virus so far is that it is spread primarily through mosquito bites, so the risk is higher in warmer climates and throughout the summer months. While the Zika virus is not typically life-threatening, we don’t know much about Zika since the first human cases were not detected until 1952. Since then, we’ve seen outbreaks in tropical regions, but global health experts cannot be sure exactly how many outbreaks there have been because the symptoms of Zika – fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes – are symptoms reported in many other diseases as well.

Last May, the Pan American Health Organization alerted the global health community that there had been a case of the Zika virus confirmed in Brazil. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared that the Zika virus is a public health emergency of international concern, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predicts the Zika virus will continue to spread throughout other regions of the world, including within the United States. As of April 6, 2016, there have been 2 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Tennessee. As of May 11, 2016, 503 cases of travel-associated Zika have been reported across the United States, and 48 of the patients nationwide were pregnant. While none of these cases were acquired locally, it’s important we take steps to prepare for the Zika virus to make its way to the United States. The CDC has released a map where the mosquitoes that carry Zika are likely to spread the virus, and Tennessee is on that map.

That’s why this week, the House is considering legislation to begin to address the Zika virus’ growing threat to the United States. The House bill will provide emergency funding to the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the State Department and other relevant government agencies who are tasked with fighting Zika. President Obama has requested Congress provide $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but what the president isn’t making clear is that the administration has already reprogrammed nearly $600 million from unused Ebola funds to help combat the Zika virus. The House is voting on a package to provide $622 million in additional funding. While the president’s request is significantly larger than the House bill, the House is acting to provide only the funding needed until September 30 – the end of the fiscal year - and can provide additional funding through the ongoing appropriations process, if needed. Our bill is fully offset, meaning there is no new government spending. The House bill re-appropriates unused administrative funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as leftover unobligated funding from the Ebola outbreak.

Our bill includes strong oversight, and requires the GAO and Inspector Generals of HHS, the State Department and USAID to closely monitor the funding and report to Congress how it’s spent to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. Additionally, the agencies receiving funds are required to submit detailed spending plans and notify Congress before funds are obligated. I believe this bill will responsibly provide the funds necessary to fight Zika while protecting the taxpayers from wasteful spending. The Senate is also expected to pass a bill to fund the fight against Zika, and I will continue to press for a strategy that appropriately responds to the public health threat posed by Zika and also protects taxpayers from wasteful Washington spending.

Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.
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