Obama Requests $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika Virus

Josiane da Silva holds her son Jose Elton, who was born with microcephaly, outside her house in Alcantil, Paraiba state, Brazil. Zika is thought to cause birth defects. Josiane da Silva holds her son Jose Elton, who was born with microcephaly, outside her house in Alcantil, Paraiba state, Brazil. Zika is thought to cause birth defects. Felipe Dana / AP

With the Zika virus continuing to spread from Latin America and the Caribbean, the White House on Monday announced that it is requesting $1.8 billion in emergency funds for several agencies to accelerate research into a vaccine and educate populations at risk for the disease.

The request comes a week after agencies were tasked with mobilizing teams to confront the mosquito-borne disease here and abroad and on the same day President Obama told a CBS News interviewer that “There shouldn't be a panic on this.” The virus, he noted, poses a particular threat of birth defects, so programs are focusing on pregnant women and women who might become pregnant.

“The federal government has been monitoring the Zika virus and working with our domestic and international public health partners to alert health care providers and the public about Zika; provide public health laboratories with diagnostic tests; and detect and report cases both domestically and internationally,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The virus has been detected in some 26 countries identified by the Pan American Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among U.S. travelers from December through Feb. 5.

The emergency funding request to Congress breaks down as follows:

  •  $1.48 billion for the Health and Human Services Department, $828 million of which would go to the CDC to support Zika readiness in territories subject to Zika transmission through enhanced laboratory, epidemiology and surveillance capacity. Also included are beefed-up population education strategies for prevention; stepped-up research into the incidence, diagnostics and links between the virus and birth defects; and enhanced international capacity for virus surveillance.
  • $250 million for HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to enhance, on a temporary one-year basis, health support services in Puerto Rico’s share of Medicaid’s Federal Medical Assistance. The funds would also support Puerto Rico’s community health centers and provide home visits to expectant mothers.
  • $200 million for HHS vaccine research and diagnostic development and procurement, primarily at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
  • $210 million for other HHS responses, such as creating an urgent and emerging threat fund in case the virus spread widely to U.S. states.
  •  $335 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development to support affected countries’ ability to control mosquitoes and the transmission of the virus as well as maternal health, public education, and development and marketing of vaccines. The request would also provide flexibility in the use of remaining USAID Ebola funds, the White House said.
  • $41 million for the State Department to support its employees and U.S. citizens in affected countries, as well as augment public diplomacy and related communications. Some funds would aid the Pan American Health Organization and Unicef’s efforts to provide new equipment and training in combatting the virus in Brazil, home to this summer’s Olympic Games.

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