US President Barack Obama on Monday urged Congress to release the sum of $1.8 billion as emergency fund to fight Zika virus which is already threatening to rear its head in the US, and today top US health officials and senators rose in support of the emergency fund, stating it is a matter of life and death that the money be released to fight the approaching menace - USA TODAY reports.
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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) executive director Tom Frieden met with the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds health programs, urging them to urgently release the needed funds to fight off Zika virus – rather than use part of the money already signed off for Ebola prevention for the latest effort to combat Zika.
Republican senators are asking the Obama administration to use existing Ebola funds to deal with the emerging Zika threat, but CDC’s director Frieden disagreed with the idea, saying Ebola is not fully eliminated even though it is contained at the moment and could resurface at any moment.
"Ebola isn't over," Frieden told the congressmen on Thursday, pointing out that CDC’s officials conducted about 10,000 tests for Ebola worldwide in January 2016. "We risk letting down our guard on Ebola (if the funds are diverted to Zika). The Ebola dollars that are not spent are all allocated for activities that we consider critical."
President Obama had made it clear that the Zika fund would be used for mosquito control programs, vaccine production, public awareness campaigns, and enhancing healthcare for poor pregnant women since Zika virus is transmitted largely via the bites of the Aeges aegypti mosquito.
Both Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had sponsored a bill that would make it possible for the Obama administration to convert any existing Ebola funds to other emergency health needs, and it is being considered that the remaining funds can now be applied to Zika response. As of September 2015, the remaining fund is about $3 billion.
President Obama made it clear that $355 million out of the requested Zika fund will be given as foreign aid to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, Anthony Fauci, also revealed that the NIH is working to develop a Zika vaccine at the moment and that the requested fund would be necessary to help the agency continue the vaccine development.
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell also impressed it upon the Senate Finance Committee that the requested Zika fund is a necessity, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, urged her colleagues to approve new funding for Zika prevention.
"We need to get over the idea that there are pots of money that they (health officials) can move around," she said.