Congress fails to pass Zika funds before summer break

Brian Zimmerman - Print  | 

Squabbling legislators failed once again to come to a compromise on emergency Zika funds. On Thursday, the Senate voted down the House Zika spending bill, which some Democrats previously described as "designed to fail." Now, America's legislators are leaving for a seven-week recess, meaning Zika funds will have to wait until September, according to STAT.

The partisan fight over Zika funds began in February when President Barack Obama called for nearly $2 billion in funding to help brace the nation for the arrival of the Zika virus — a neurologically debilitating, mosquito-borne disease linked to birth defects, most notably microcephaly.

Since the president's request, Republicans have proposed bills with funds well below the White House's nearly $2 billion request or that pull money from other causes, which has drawn the ire of Democrats. The $1.1 billion measure most recently passed in the House included provisions that would divert $622.1 million from other programs, including Planned Parenthood.

After the bill's failure, Senate leaders from both parties exchanged harsh words on the floor, according to STAT.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scolded Democrats, telling them to "think about Zika" during their summer vacation.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "Republicans are choosing vacation over protecting pregnant women and their babies."

The frustration among the medical community in the wake of these many legislative failures is palpable.

Local health departments in regions at risk for Zika proliferation are left in a particularly precarious position as the nation approaches the heart of mosquito season.

"By not addressing the threat now, we risk squandering our nation's opportunity to prevent the Zika virus from gaining a foothold in the United States this summer," LaMar Hasbrouck, MD, executive director for National Association of County and City Health Officials, said. "Local health departments are rightfully concerned because they are on the front lines of responding to this crisis. Resources are still desperately needed to launch prevention efforts and to respond to any local transmission of Zika. On behalf of families across the nation, we implore federal leaders to find a solution to enable local health departments to do what they are trained to do and protect the public's health."

Andrew W. Gurman, MD, president of the American Medical Association, expressed frustration on behalf of the largest physician association in the country.

"Without ensuring there are sufficient resources available for research, prevention, control and treatment of illnesses associated with the Zika virus, the U.S. will be ill-equipped to deploy the kind of public health response needed to keep our citizens safe and healthy — especially since the spread of mosquito-borne illness is accelerated during the summer months," he said.

According to the CDC, as of July 7, there are 346 pregnant women in the U.S. with laboratory evidence of Zika infection. Additionally, nine women have given birth to infants with Zika-related birth defects in the U.S.

More articles on the Zika virus: 
Olympics likely won't spread Zika worldwide, CDC says: 3 things to know  
First Zika-related death in US reported in Utah  
WHO recommends use of polio detection systems to combat Zika-related disorder 

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