The AAFP and several dozen other health care organizations are urging Congress to treat the Zika virus as the real threat to public health that it is by immediately dedicating more money to treatment and prevention.
In bluntly worded letters sent April 5,(6 page PDF) the organizations told Senate and House leaders, "(We) urge you in the strongest terms to immediately provide emergency supplemental funding to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus here in the United States."
Zika virus already has been diagnosed in several travelers who returned to the U.S. and in people who acquired the virus through sexual transmission. The approaching summer can be expected to bring mosquitoes that can spread the virus, which has been linked to microcephaly in infants. The cost of lifetime care for such children "will likely be millions of dollars per child," the letters note.
"Over four million babies are born in our nation each year, and many of their mothers could be at risk for contracting Zika during pregnancy," the letters read.
"Our nation has a brief window of opportunity to slow the spread of the Zika virus and avert a wave of preventable birth defects," the letters state. But Congress has yet to act on the White House's funding request.
Currently, even diagnosing the virus remains difficult because testing materials are not widely available.
"With emergency supplemental funding to respond to the Zika virus, state and local public health professionals would have access to increased virus readiness and response capacity focused on areas with ongoing Zika transmission," the letter states.
The White House initially asked Congress to approve $1.9 billion to fight Zika, focusing on public education, mosquito reduction and accelerated vaccine research. Some members of Congress suggested shifting unused money that had been earmarked for Ebola into Zika funding, but CDC officials countered that these funds are still needed to prevent another Ebola outbreak.
The letters urge Congress to allocate new funding rather than pulling money from other important programs -- and to do so now.
"If we take immediate action, we may be able to dramatically slow the spread of Zika, giving scientists time to develop and test a vaccine," the letters say. "Without action, however, we fear the number of newborns born with debilitating birth defects will only continue to rise."
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