WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich this week joined Senate Democrats in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran calling for immediate passage of President Obama’s emergency supplemental funding request of $1.9 billion for prevention and treatment of the Zika virus outbreak. Specifically, the new letter calls for the Senate Appropriations committee to mark-up the president’s emergency funding request as soon as possible to ensure swift passage by the full Senate and House.
“It would be shortsighted and dangerous for Congress not to act quickly to give the Administration the resources it needs to fully fight the Zika virus and protect Americans,” the senators wrote. “For more than two months, Congress has failed to respond to the Administration’s Zika request. But more importantly, Congress has failed to address a disease that has infected more than 800 Americans in 40 states, Washington, D.C., and 3 U.S. territories, including 89 pregnant women.”
For more than two months, Congressional Republicans have failed to respond to the Administration’s emergency funding request, even though more than 800 Americans in 40 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories, including 89 pregnant women, have already been infected by the virus. Last month, New Mexico reported its first confirmed case of the virus in a Bernalillo county man. This renewed push comes on the heels of the CDC’s confirmation of the link between Zika infection during pregnancy and severe birth defects like microcephaly.
Udall and Heinrich introduced legislation last year to address border health issues, such as the spread of mosquito-borne infectious diseases like the Zika virus. Their Border Health Security Act would strengthen binational collaboration and establish grant programs to improve public health infrastructure and infectious disease monitoring.
Full text of the new letter can be found below:
Dear Leader McConnell and Chairman Cochran:
Today, we write to urge that you immediately begin work to act on the public health crisis posed by the Zika virus. The Administration has requested $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental funding to address the Zika virus epidemic and we urge you to mark-up this request in the Appropriations Committee as soon as possible.
As you know, the Administration announced last Wednesday that it would transfer $510 million from the remaining Ebola funds to support the response to the Zika outbreak. Although this was necessary in the face of Congressional inaction and the growing and rapidly changing public health threat posed by Zika, it would be shortsighted and dangerous for Congress not to act quickly to give the Administration the resources it needs to fully fight the Zika virus and protect Americans. The Zika threat requires a much broader, more comprehensive response and we should not force our public health officials to choose between funding Ebola or Zika efforts, especially at a time when there have been 13 new Ebola cases in West Africa in the past month.
Beyond addressing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the supplemental funding was also meant to strengthen the overall public health preparedness and response systems in the U.S. and abroad, including through increased Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding to states. But now, public health departments in our home states are losing up to 9% of their PHEP funds as part of the Administration’s decision to reprogram Ebola response funds. In other words, Congressional inaction on the Zika request has forced the Administration to shift resources intended to fight future emergencies away from states. We gain nothing by being so shortsighted.
In the past week, the agencies leading the Zika response have continued to sound the alarm about this virus. Researchers have confirmed the link between Zika infection in pregnancy and severe birth defects like microcephaly, and is continuing to investigate the link with autoimmune disorders, including Guillain-Barre Syndrome andacute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. The virus is a particular threat for women in impacted regions where there is little or no access to contraception, family planning and reproductive health care, and women at home and abroad lack information about the disease.
While we do not yet know how far north the mosquitoes that transmit this virus can travel, nor the extent of the health complications that people infected with this virus face, we do know how to prevent its spread. As we have stated before, we must work to improve vector control, improve women’s access to contraceptives and family planning, and accelerate the development of treatments – including a vaccine. We must protect pregnant women and children from this devastating disease.
For more than two months, Congress has failed to respond to the Administration’s Zika request. But more importantly, Congress has failed to address a disease that has infected more than 800 Americans in 40 states, Washington, D.C., and 3 U.S. territories, including 89 pregnant women. We cannot delay approving critical resources to assist in the Zika response. We must act now to pass the President’s request for supplemental funding.