Officials: Budget harms our Zika prevention efforts
Public health officials warned Wednesday that President Trump’s budget would devastate their efforts to fight diseases such as Zika, reviving the ominous warnings they used last year to demand nearly $2 billion to battle the virus that turned out milder than they initially had warned.
As temperatures rise and the mosquitoes that carry Zika proliferate, city and county officials said Mr. Trump’s $1.2 billion proposed cut to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will reduce lab capacity and slash public health emergency funding.
The CDC is about to dole out the last of its money from the $394 million it was allocated in last year’s spending bill to fight Zika.
“There’s no more money coming behind that unless Congress acts,” said Laura Hanen, interim executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Local health chiefs also faulted the House GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, saying cuts to taxpayer-subsidized coverage and waivers that would allow insurers to provide plans without a slate of “essential” benefits, including maternity care, could hinder the Zika response.
More than 5,000 travelers have reported cases acquired in other counties and brought back with them since Zika struck the Western Hemisphere in 2015, according to CDC figures.
Yet only 225 people reported cases by mosquito bite on the continental U.S., with local infections limited to a few neighborhoods in Florida and Texas. That’s far less than the potential danger zone extending across the South and up the coasts in maps presented by federal officials last year.
Armed with those maps, the Obama White House demanded nearly $2 billion in federal dollars that weren’t offset elsewhere in the budget.
Congress ended up approving $1.1 billion, after a fiery debate that involved a government shutdown showdown.
The Government Accountability Office recently said the Obama administration “painted with a broad brush” and may have “spread fear” about the danger areas.
Public health officials reignited the Zika-funding war Wednesday, saying while they expect outbreaks to be limited to small pockets of the country once again, the potential consequences are enormous.
Zika virus is known to cause grave birth defects in infants born to infected mothers. A recent CDC report said women with suspected cases of Zika had a 5 percent rate of virus-spawned birth defects, while those with lab-confirmed cases showed a 10 percent rate.