Why Congress must act on Zika

Aedes aegypti mosquito in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2009. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Wikipedia Commons
Aedes aegypti mosquito in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2009. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Wikipedia Commons

In July 2016 the CDC issued an advisory notice that warned pregnant women -or women planning to become pregnant- against traveling to 45 different countries. With the virus’s arrival in Florida, however, the public in that state is now wrestling with what this means for mothers and their partners. The issue is now becoming a topic in the election contest in Florida, as Mark Sumner described in a (not impartial) recent article in Daily Kos. In the piece he quotes Trump’s vice-chairman for Miami-Dade as saying that Zika was an “insignificant issue,” which was less important than building a wall “to keep the illegals out.” Yesterday Donald Trump himself declined to say that Congress should reconvene to vote on funding Zika research and prevention.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, there is still a great deal that we don’t know about Zika. In Brazil Zika was recently discovered in common house mosquitoes. Whether these mosquitoes can transmit the virus is unknown. A great deal of basic science is now being done on such fundamental questions as how the Zika virus infects the fetus. Such uncertainties make the development of a vaccine and basic health measures (such as mosquito eradication) even more important. Congress has not funded President Obama’s $1.9 billion request for dedicated funds to fight Zika. Given that the virus is likely to eventually appear in California, Texas, New Mexico and Washington, DC, how long will scientists and health professionals have to wait before they have the funding to do their work?

Follow-up: After this post was published, I read this article in CNN by Laurie Garrett, one of the most respected journalists in the field of global health. One of the key points that she makes is that Zika should not become a political tool, especially in this election year, and I think that her points are well worth reading.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

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