Senators Warner, Kaine call for additional funding to respond to Zika virus

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WASHINGTON - As the threat of the Zika virus grows, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined colleagues in urging President Obama to devote increased funding to the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) Program at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to enhance efforts to control outbreaks, counter the spread of the disease in Puerto Rico and other areas in our country where it is already present, and prevent transmission in the United States.

With at least one reported case of the Zika virus in Virginia, in Friday’s letter the senators called on Obama to ensure that the federal government is working with local and state agencies to develop strategies for protecting Virginians from the threat.

Specifically, the Senators called for:


  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection to immediately review whether inspections procedures at major points of entry from South America and other affected areas need to be revised in order to respond to the Zika virus

  • If necessary, allocate resources for appropriate screening procedures at border crossings and airports

  • Ensure that federal agencies work with state and local partners to develop a cohesive national surveillance strategy for the monitoring, identification, and reporting of any domestic Zika infections

  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop educational materials to inform travelers regarding the risk of Zika virus exposure

  • Ramp up research efforts, including at the National Institutes of Health, to better understand the link between Zika virus, microcephaly, and other public health impacts and accelerate rapid diagnostic and vaccine development.

Full text of the letter is available below:

Dear President Obama:

The ongoing outbreak of the Zika virus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared “is now spreading explosively,” requires an urgent and aggressive response in the months before peak mosquito season to protect pregnant women and children. We are writing to urge you to address the potential spread of the virus throughout the United States by devoting increased funding to the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) Program at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Vector-Borne disease program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the USDA Agricultural Research Services Mosquito and Fly Research Unit, and other key programs in your FY17 budget request or subsequent amendments. We also urge you to immediately coordinate and allocate the increased resources made available in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and to take steps to enhance Zika virus screening, surveillance and response.

The Zika virus is transmitted via bites from the same kind of mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. For most, the symptoms of Zika are mild, but when pregnant women become infected there is early evidence its effects can be devastating. Zika has been linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, which can lead to below-average head size, developmental difficulties, and brain damage. These potential impacts have spurred the WHO to declare the rise in Zika-linked birth defects a public health emergency of international concern.

In the Americas, it is anticipated that the outbreak could infect up to 4 million people. Because Zika is carried by low-moisture dwelling mosquitos, local transmission is predicted to spread to all countries and territories where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is found, including the United States. There is a critical and urgent need for a robust and coordinated response at all levels, and it will be necessary to enhance efforts to control outbreaks, counter the spread of the disease in Puerto Rico and other areas in our country where it is already present, and prevent transmission in the United States.

Investing in the effort to combat the Zika virus abroad is one of the most important things we can do to prevent widespread transmission of the virus at home. The EPT Program helps developing countries prevent, detect, and control the outbreak of infectious diseases. The program has been able to successfully use the technical expertise of the CDC in African, Asian, and Latin American countries to combat infectious diseases like Zika. CDC’s National center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) further works to protect again the spread of diseases like Zika virus both at home and abroad while USDA’s Agricultural Research Services Mosquito and Fly Research Unit also plays a critical role in developing better means of mosquito detection, monitoring, and control.

We urge you to include additional funding for these programs – and other programs that are essential to this response – in your upcoming FY17 budget request or supplemental amendments that would specifically target increased assistance for activities in countries experiencing Zika outbreaks.

At this time it is also critically important that we take additional steps to respond to the ongoing outbreak and work to prevent additional cases of Zika from occurring in the United States. To meet this challenge we urge you to:

· Direct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to immediately review whether inspections procedures at major points of entry from South America and other affected areas need to be revised in order to respond to the Zika virus;
· If necessary, allocate resources for appropriate screening procedures at border crossings and airports;
· Ensure that federal agencies work with state and local partners to develop a cohesive national surveillance strategy for the monitoring, identification, and reporting of any domestic Zika infections;
· Direct the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop educational materials to inform travelers regarding the risk of Zika virus exposure;
· Ramp up research efforts, including at the National Institutes of Health, to better understand the link between Zika virus, microcephaly, and other public health impacts and accelerate rapid diagnostic and vaccine development.

By taking action now, we can make significant progress toward mitigating the impact of Zika virus abroad and preventing the spread of the Zika virus in the United States. Thank you for your consideration of this request.