In response to the growing likelihood of a Zika epidemic in the U.S., AIDS Healthcare Foundation presses Congress to fund the prevention of a public health crisis.
LOS ANGELES (May 16, 2016) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, joins public health experts and top federal health officials calling for Congress to authorize funding to address the threat of the Zika virus. Lawmakers adjourned for a 10-day recess late last month after failing to approve the Obama administration’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding in February.
Congress’s inaction on the issue reflects a lack of concern over the mosquito-borne and sexually-transmitted disease that has primarily affected low-income pregnant women and their newborns across Latin America. Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly in newborns, a severe birth defect linked to developmental delay, seizures and intellectual disability. It has also been linked to Guillain–Barré syndrome, a rare paralytic disease.
Republicans argue that the resources requested are larger than necessary to combat the virus, despite the consensus among federal health officials that the funds are urgently needed for early research and prevention measures.
“Congress cannot continue to stubbornly ignore the proven threat of the Zika virus,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Failing to act decisively on Zika could easily result in a wider-spread public health and economic catastrophe.”
Zika poses a tangible threat to the U.S. that may escalate to a public health emergency in coming months. There are already 472 confirmed cases in the continental U.S., with 84 new cases occurring just in the past week. In a commentary for the Harvard Public Health Review, population health expert Amir Attaran warns that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio could spark a “full-blown global health disaster” after an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists travel in and out of the epidemic’s epicenter. The likelihood of Zika spreading also increases during mosquito-friendly hot summer months.
Beyond the disastrous public health implications of a Zika virus spread, the epidemic could also cost Americans billions if the nation is not adequately prepared. Health economist Donald Shepherd compared Zika to the similarly mosquito-borne dengue outbreak, which cost the global economy $8.9 billion.