The Administration is committed to taking every step necessary, as quickly as possible, to protect the American people from the Zika virus. That’s why we submitted to Congress a request for emergency supplemental funding in February to fortify our efforts to combat and stay ahead of the disease. But Congress has yet to act.
Nearly two months have passed and the situation continues to grow more critical. Since we submitted the supplemental request to Congress, we have learned that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than believed; that the potential impact on fetal brain development is starker and more serious than first understood; and that within the United States the geographical range of the Aedis aegypti mosquito far exceeds our initial estimation.
The Zika virus is spreading in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and abroad -- and there will likely be local mosquito-borne transmission in the continental United States in the upcoming spring and summer months. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated there is a strong scientific consensus that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and other neurological disorders. There is a confirmed case of a baby born with Zika-related microcephaly in Hawaii and there are additional microcephaly cases under investigation. As of last week, 33 countries and territories in the Americas reported active Zika transmission.
We continue to call on Congress to take immediate action to provide the full requested amount for the emergency supplemental, but in the absence of Congressional action, we must scale up Zika preparedness and response activities now.
Faced with this urgent need, we have identified $589 million – including $510 million of existing Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID – that can quickly be redirected and spent on immediate, time-critical activities such as mosquito control, lab capacity, development of diagnostics and vaccines, supporting affected expectant mothers and babies, tracking and mapping the spread and effects of Zika infections in humans, and other prevention and response efforts in the continental United States, Puerto Rico, other U.S. Territories, and abroad, especially within the Americas.
We have always said that we were open to using a portion of the existing Ebola balances for Zika, but that this alone would not provide a sufficient enough response to the significant threat posed by Zika. This remains true. As such, the redirected funds are not enough to support a comprehensive Zika response and can only temporarily address what is needed until Congress acts on the Administration's emergency supplemental request. Emergency supplemental funding continues to be urgently needed to support the full range of activities needed to prevent, detect, and respond to further transmission of the Zika virus, including:
- Fortifying domestic and international public health systems;
- Accelerating vaccine research and development to provide a long-term strategy to limit the Zika virus;
- Enabling the development of better diagnostic tests, including tests that can be implemented in resource poor settings, and expanded laboratory capacity in both public health laboratories and in the private sector in the United States and abroad, particularly to meet the demand for Zika testing that we anticipate will dramatically increase;
- Conducting mosquito surveillance and deploying mosquito control tools, such as outdoor and indoor residual spraying, source reduction and larviciding, and widespread space spraying. In particular, as the rainy season gets underway in Central America and the Caribbean, these mosquito control efforts will be important internationally as well as domestically;
- Educating health care providers, pregnant women, and their partners;
- Supporting ongoing research efforts to improve our understanding of the Zika virus and its adverse health outcomes;
- Developing pathogen-reduction technology to help ensure the safety of the blood supply;
- Improving health services and support for low-income pregnant women; and
- Enhancing the ability of Zika-affected countries to better combat mosquitoes, control transmission, and support affected populations.
Without the full amount of requested emergency supplemental funding, many activities that need to start now would have to be delayed, or curtailed or stopped, within months. For example, without supplemental funding, testing and manufacturing of vaccine candidates beyond the earliest stages of clinical trials would not be possible. In addition, lack of supplemental funding would prevent us from developing platform technologies for vaccine candidates for this Zika response and from accelerating the response to emerging infectious diseases in the future. Absent supplemental funding, we will need to delay contracting with manufacturers for the development of faster and more accurate diagnostic tests, which are needed to ensure that those who think they have been exposed to Zika can get tested. In particular, there is a critical need for point-of-care diagnostics that are faster and do not require laboratory capacity. Similarly, starting mosquito surveillance and control activities now, prior to the summer months which are peak season for mosquitoes, and prior to the start of the rainy season in Central America and the Caribbean, is prudent. Lack of funds could result in having to halt these efforts within months, which would increase the risk of more Americans contracting the Zika virus. Without supplemental funding, CDC would not be able to fully fund planned state grants for public health emergency preparedness, which would impede the ability for states to fully implement risk-based Zika preparedness and response plans.
The full supplemental request is also needed to replenish the amounts that we are now spending from our Ebola accounts to fund Zika-related activities. The threat of Ebola remains front and center, as evidenced by the recent cases in Guinea and Liberia, and there is still critical work that is ongoing to make sure that we follow through on our Ebola response. There are currently 12 cases across Guinea and Liberia with nearly 1000 contacts under observation. Given the high-risk exposure of many of these contacts, we expect the case numbers to go up in the coming days. Replenishing the Ebola accounts will ensure we have sufficient contingency funds to address unanticipated needs related to both Zika and Ebola.
As we have seen with both Ebola and Zika, there are still many unknowns about the science and scale of the outbreak and how it will impact mothers, babies, and health systems domestically and abroad. We urge Congress to act quickly on the emergency request for Zika to ensure we have funds to stay ahead of this disease, as well as Ebola, and do everything we can to protect the American people.