“Zika is a test to see if we’ve learned anything from Ebola” — Emergency funding not enough to deal with emerging infections, panelists say

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The 1.9 billion dollars the Obama Administration has requested to respond to the Zika virus is not enough, according to Amy Pope. It’s not enough to build lab capacity, improve surveillance and diagnostics, and strengthen overall health systems so that the global community can anticipate emerging infections instead of reacting to them, she says. That, she notes is what the U.S. government has done several times over the last seven years, with outbreaks of pandemic influenza, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.

“Emergency funding is not enough to sustain a response,” Pope, deputy advisor of U.S.  Homeland Security said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ global development forum last week.

Amy Pope, Marcos Espinal, Daniel Dulitsky, Patrick Kachur, J. Steven Morrison

Amy Pope, Marcos Espinal, Daniel Dulitsky, Patrick Kachur, J. Steven Morrison

“We are never best positioned when we are simply reacting to something that comes to the U.S.,” she said.

When 70 percent of countries don’t have the systems in place to address biological risks and are not compliant with the International Health Regulations, everyone, the United States included, is at risk, she said: “There is no wall we can build that will keep out a mosquito.”

With the looming threat of outbreaks in the southern U.S. in the next few months, “we are running out of time to get ahead of the virus,” Pope said.  “The wrangling that’s going on in the Congress over funding,” she added, “is dangerous and a waste of time.”

Three months after the request, and J.Stephen Morrison of CSIS pointed out, “we’re looking at not being able to move for another 60 days because of the legislative process.”

Meanwhile, thousands of babies will be at risk of being born with microcephaly, Daniel Dulitsky of the World Bank said, and may require advanced medical care for the rest of their lives, with estimates ranging from $1 million to $10 million in lifetime care costs per child. That cost, on top of revenue loss from less tourism, will cost affected Latin American countries billions of dollars, he said.

For some small countries, the economic impacts will be devastating, Morrison said, and the individual economic impacts within countries are sure to be asymmetrical. Even in the United States, where the wealthy can afford air conditioning and won’t have to open their doors and windows during the summer, the poor will be the most affected.

“Zika is a test to see if we’ve learned anything from Ebola,” Morrison said.

“We need adequate funding, strong plans, and bipartisan consensus on the way to move forward,” he said. “And we need a long-term view around what these responses will take.”

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