On February 22nd, the Presidential office requested $1.9billion in emergency funding to support activities related to Zika virus, but these efforts have dangerously stalled in Congress. To date, nearly $600 million has been redirected by the Obama administration to fund Zika related research, front line response efforts, and vaccine development. More than half of this money was redirected from within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
On August 3rd, Sylvia Burwell, DHHS Secretary, informed Congress that due to the delay in approving the emergency funding, the DHHS had been forced to further reallocate up to $81 million from other programs, including the National Institutes of Health. This was extremely important because it could impact the progression of the vaccine studies currently underway, as Secretary Burwell suggested in her letter to Congress. Her letter also outlined the response by the CDC and predicted that they too would be out of Zika funding by the end of the fiscal year (Sept 2016).
Funding approval for Zika virus related activities from the U.S. is more urgent than ever. As of August 17th, the U.S. has confirmed 14 cases of locally acquired Zika virus disease – all from Florida. This was after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on August 2nd that an additional $16 million was awarded to 40 states and territories to support Zika related public health activities.
So what can you do? It is time we let our political leaders know that their constituency will not wait any longer. Follow Secretary Burwell’s lead – petition your local congressional representatives (House, Senate) and let them know this is an issue you care about. Or submit pre-formatted online petitions at Project Hope and AmeriCares. And spread the word and call to action amongst your peers.