Congress Plays Politics With Zika Threat

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the number of Zika cases among pregnant women in the contiguous United States has increased to 320. This new number represents an increase of thirty-three women since reports from last week. The virus, referred to as a “silent epidemic” has continued to spread throughout the Americas. The virus has proven difficult to track mainly due to the fact that many who are infected do not exhibit symptoms. When the disease does manifest, it generally does so with mild symptoms such as pink eye, rashes and fevers. While most of the symptoms are mild, it has been known to have devastating consequences for pregnant women, including extreme birth defects.

Despite the concerning rate of pregnant women with the virus within the contiguous United States, the number of babies born with birth defects due to Zika in the country has been minimal with only seven cases. According to a CDC registry instituted last month, there has been five recorded cases of lost pregnancies linked to Zika. 

To date, all cases of Zika in the contiguous United States are from those who have recently traveled to Latin America. There are currently no reported cases of local transmission and only one death has occurred in the contiguous United States. The CDC warns that as the summer progresses, the chances of Zika being transmitted within the country increases. This makes it ever more important that the CDC receives adequate funding for necessary tests and to work towards a cure.

The Obama Administration and congressional Democrats have been pressuring Republicans to agree to a bipartisan legislation for Zika funding. The White House initially requested $1.9 billion in funding. The money requested is meant to be used for research, testings, and aiding community clinics in at-risk areas. Republicans have introduced a measure to pledge $1.1 billion in funding. While the bill has already passed through the House, Democrats in the Senate have blocked it due to Republican added riders including restricting funding of Planned Parenthood clinics. Democrats have accused Republicans of playing politics with such an important issue. “This is not a time to play political games. It’s a time to compromise and get something done,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) stated

Over the last week, President Obama called on Senate Democrats and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R- Kentucky) to take a bipartisan approach. McConnell responded with plans to stick with the current legislation as it has already passed through the house. 

Along with restricting funds for Planned Parenthood clinics, Republicans have also included in the Zika funding bill, plans to remove funds from Ebola research and from the Affordable Healthcare Act. If Congress does not pass legislation for funding prior to going into recess, the CDC will have to wait until September for the legislation to be revisited. “They’ll force yet another failed vote on this cynical legislation and then pack their bags for the longest Senate vacation since 1954,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said.



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