Congress passes bill supplying temporary government funding, long-awaited Zika money

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Two days ahead of the deadline for money to keep the government running, and 218 days after the White House called for emergency dollars to fight the spread of Zika virus, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a spending resolution Wednesday answering both needs.

The continuing resolution that passed the House by 342-85 vote, and the Senate by a vote of 72-26, supplies government funding at fiscal year 2016 levels through December 9, and supplies $1.1 billion for Zika responses without restrictions that had interfered with the passage of earlier Congressional bills. The Zika funding measure falls short of the Obama administration’s February request for $1.8 billion for immediate responses to the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus that causes profound neurological defects in infants born to infected women, can trigger the paralyzing Guillain–Barré syndrome, and has caused at least two American deaths. But it also does not include earlier provisions that would have restricted funding to the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Puerto Rico where nearly 70 percent of women are estimated to have an unmet need for contraception, and it does not lift provisions of the Clean Water Act barring unrestricted use of toxic pesticides near or in waterways, as an earlier House bill and subsequent “Conference Agreement” between House and Senate majority leaders did.

The White House has issued a statement approving the spending bill and accompanying Zika funding allocation, which includes:

  • $397 for development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tools through the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research Authority;
  • $394 million for mosquito control, Zika surveillance, laboratory testing, community outreach and education and health department reimbursement through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • $145.5 million to support international health responses to the spread of the virus and build health care capacities;
  • $141 million, of which $126 million is reserved for Puerto Rico, for health services to include contraception and maternal and child care to prevent Zika spread and impacts;
  • and $30 million for Department of State and USAID costs, including for evacuation and care of staff members.

The bill does not replace $700 million diverted from continuing responses to the West Africa Ebola outbreak and from domestic health programs. At the time of the President’s February request for emergency Zika funding, the virus was being locally transmitted in 26 countries. As of Sept. 22, 73 countries, including the United States, had reported mosquito-borne transmission of the virus, and 12 had reported person-to-person, or sexual transmission of the virus.

For more information about the spread of Zika virus and its impacts see the World Health Organization timeline here, and the IDSA Global Health Policy paper here.

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