Obama wants $1.8bn to fight Zika

2016-02-08 20:07
The Aedes Aegypti mosquito at a laboratory of the Ministry of Health of El Salvador in San Savador. (AFP)

The Aedes Aegypti mosquito at a laboratory of the Ministry of Health of El Salvador in San Savador. (AFP)

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Washington - President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8bn in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus. In an announcement on Monday, the White House said the money would be used to expand mosquito control programmes, speed development of a vaccine, develop diagnostic tests and improve support for low-income pregnant women.

Zika virus disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes. Most people who catch it experience mild or no symptoms. But mounting evidence from Brazil suggests that infection in pregnant women is linked to abnormally small heads in their babies - a birth defect called microcephaly.

"What we now know is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women and women who are thinking about having a baby," Obama said in an interview aired Monday on "CBS This Morning."

The White House said that as spring and summer approach, the US must prepare to quickly address local transmission with the continental US Obama added, however, that "there shouldn't be a panic on this."

Two health care experts will answer reporters' questions on Monday at the regular White House press briefing: Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The administration's request to Congress is separate from the budget for the next fiscal year that Obama will submit to Congress on Tuesday. The administration seeks the Zika money much more quickly than the regular budget process would allow.

The Pan American Health Organisation reports 26 countries and territories in the Americas with local Zika transmission. To date, there has not been transmission of the Zika virus by mosquitoes within the US, but some Americans have returned to the US with Zika infections from affected countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

Most of the money would be allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services to improve laboratory capacity, launch educational programmes and establish rapid response teams. About $250m of assistance would be directed specifically to Puerto Rico though extra Medicaid funding. The island is in the midst of a fiscal crisis. And $200m would go toward research and commercialisation of new vaccines and diagnostic tests.

The remainder, about $335m, would go to the US Agency for International Development. The money would help affected countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean provide training to health care workers, stimulate private sector research and help pregnant women gain access to repellent to protect against mosquitoes.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reports 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among US travelers from December 2015- February 5 2016, the White House said. So far, the only recent case that has been transmitted within the US is believed to have occurred in Texas through sex.

Zika usually is transmitted through bites from infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are common in Florida, along the Gulf Coast and states that border Mexico.

Read more on:    us  |  zika virus

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