Congress Must Act on Zika
Yesterday, I called on Congressional leadership to get serious about our nation’s response to Zika. I was joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio, City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and other local officials.
To date, there have been nearly 2,000 Zika cases across the country, including 489 in New York City. At least 16 babies have been born with Zika-related microcephaly here in the United States, including one that was born in New York City just a few weeks ago. Yet, Congressional Republicans are playing politics as usual, refusing to bring up President Obama’s six-month old request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding and instead, proposing measures that would actually underfund and undermine the Zika response effort.
As a result, just this past week, the Administration had to transfer $81 million from important biomedical research and antipoverty programs in order to have enough money to fund the development of Zika vaccines – that’s on top of the $589 million in Ebola funding shifted to the Zika effort back in April. HHS Secretary Burwell told us that this limited funding will run out by the end of September. We must act quickly.
Congressional Republicans’ proposals are unacceptable; dramatically underfunding the anti-Zika efforts by providing $800 million less than what the President requested way back in February, and actually blocking funding for Planned Parenthood and access to contraception at a time when we are trying to fight a disease which can be transmitted sexually and can cause extremely harmful birth defects.
Ideological crusades against contraception hurt our efforts to protect the health of pregnant women and their babies, and are terrible public policy, particularly in the face of a disease like Zika.
You only have to look at some of the countries that have been suffering from Zika to see why. On Monday, I returned from a Congressional trip to Africa where I met women who are raising babies with microcephaly, and it was truly heartbreaking to see.
A clean bill that would fully fund the President’s plan is our best chance of combating the spread of this virus here in the United States.
There is some positive news in the effort to combat Zika. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center joined forces with Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the University of São Paulo to test the effectiveness of a Zika vaccine on primates and found complete protection. But, the next phase of their work is in question without funding. Furthermore, an NIH human trial for a Zika vaccine began earlier this month and the FDA approved releasing genetically-modified mosquitos that would hinder procreation by the mosquito species transmitting Zika in Florida.
But this work requires substantial federal funding and time.
This is a public health emergency and it's growing, and right now we are not as prepared as we should be because of the lack of a stronger federal response.
It's time for my Republican colleagues to put aside all the politics, get back to work and fund a federal response to the spread of Zika now.
Carolyn B. Maloney
Member of Congress