Opinion Pieces

The Hill Guest Column: Funding the fight against Zika

Zika is not a theoretical threat; it is very real, and scientists are warning that it could have catastrophic impacts right here in the U.S.

Zika is not a theoretical threat; it is very real, and scientists are warning that it could have catastrophic impacts right here in the U.S.  We’ve already seen 472 cases within our borders and 658 cases reported in U.S. territories. Over 100 of these cases were in pregnant women.

The Administration is seeking more resources to combat Zika on several fronts - $1.9 billion.  What we already know about Zika is scary, and the time to act is now.  Scientists have made the link from the Zika virus to microcephaly, a devastating birth defect that’s showing up in infants whose moms are infected with Zika.  In other countries where Zika has spread widely, severe birth defects are already impacting a generation of children.

Summer is quickly approaching, and with it warmer weather where mosquitos thrive.  That includes the types of mosquitoes that spread the Zika virus, which do live in parts of the continental U.S.

This threat requires aggressive action on multiple fronts to stem this problem before it becomes a crisis in our country. Some foreign governments are desperate, and have advised women to not get pregnant for the next two years. This is not a solution for the U.S.  Instead, we should be taking the lead on developing quick and accurate testing, eliminating the backlog of Zika tests causing some women to wait 30 days for answers, understanding exactly how the disease is spread, educating the public and particularly women of child-bearing age, and finding a vaccine.  But we must take these actions quickly.

My actions in Congress have been guided by a conviction that we need to be careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, and funding the fight against Zika is a clear benefit to American taxpayers.  While the health impacts of a Zika outbreak would be staggering, so would be the financial impacts – the lifetime cost of caring for each child born with microcephaly could exceed $10 million.  The time to invest this money is now. I’ve already voted to meet the Administration’s $1.9 billion request.

As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care, I’m committed to highlighting challenges facing moms, and exploring solutions in Congress – and right now there is no single threat to the health of infants in the U.S. more deserving of swift congressional action.  Like others, we’re trying to better understand the problem, which is why our caucus hosted an educational Zika forum this week in Washington, D.C., with two leading experts on birth defects.

I’m grateful that the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, of which I’m a member, is taking Zika seriously.  In addition to successfully convincing the President to redirect unused money dedicated to the Ebola outbreak toward fighting Zika, our committee has taken positive steps such as dedicating $10 million dollars within the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) toward Zika prevention.  With these resources, WIC would be able to expand its efforts to educate vulnerable populations of mothers about how to prevent Zika.  These efforts are already underway in U.S. territories where WIC has also distributed Zika prevention kits that include bug repellant, bed nets, and larvacide.

I don’t want expectant parents or those who will be starting families to face the risk of severe birth defects this virus causes on a massive scale, and know that Congress could have done more to stop it.  The fight to stop Zika is one we must all get behind.