On Tuesday the Senate is scheduled to vote on various proposals for committing over $1 billion to fight the spread of the Zika virus in the United States and in other countries. The White House released a spending proposal back in February, while whatever Senate proposal emerges still has to be approved by the House of Representatives (or a House proposal, reportedly coming this week, would need to be approved by both houses of Congress).
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have obtained money redirected from other federal programs in order to help state and territorial governments the ability to boost their own Zika preparedness programs. Proposals are due by June 13 and the money will be available through July 2017. The Obama Administration has identified several hundred million dollars that will be redirected (not just through the CDC).
While some coverage of the emergence of the Zika virus in the United States has been described as sensational, to me it doesn’t appear to rise to the level of the concerns over Ebola in the United States back in 2014. The consequences of the disease may not be as severe as the lethal potential of Ebola, but the nature of this virus, and how it spreads, suggests there will be many more cases than the handful of people infected by Ebola that were discovered in the U.S.
About those consequences…Zika is very rarely lethal. But it can contribute to birth defects (most notably microcephaly) in the fetuses of pregnant women that contract the disease. Perhaps the fact that the most serious consequences of Zika are to fetuses makes it easier to push off acting against the virus. If the consequences aren’t seen for months, the urgency to act may be hard to stoke.
As of May 11, the locally generated cases of Zika – those not linked to people traveling from affected areas – have been limited to the territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There have been a total of 1204 cases reported in the U.S. and its territories, with cases of Zika reported in 44 of the 50 states.
Increasingly it appears that many elected leaders are inclined to treat disease prevention like they do funding elections – as cheaply as possible and after ‘more important’ things receive funding. Maybe we can put both actions in the maintenance camp – things that need to be done, but lack the interest or the rewards to motivate sufficient action.