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Health & Science

NIH Doctor: Zika Funding Battle Is Delaying Vital Preparations

A request for money to fight the Zika virus is stalled in Congress, and health experts are getting frustrated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Washington, D.C., explains why.


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President Obama requested $1.9 billion from Congress to fight Zika, three months ago in Februrary. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is advising the president. He told News 88.7 that both national agencies like the NIH and local health departments need this money.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito

"You never say 100 percent, but we're all pretty certain that in a reasonable period of time we'll see local outbreak of Zika in the United States. Particularly along the Gulf Coast, where there are a lot of these Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. To think we're going to avoid that and not be prepared for it, I think would be very foolish."

Fauci described the Zika vector, Aedes aegypti, as “more resilient” than the Culex mosquito that transmits West Nile virus. “It bites day and night, it bites indoors and outdoors, it lives in homes as opposed to just being outside,” Fauci said. “So the challenge to contain Aedes aegypti is much more important and difficult.”

Republicans in Congress have proposed spending smaller amounts of money, and some have suggested using money that was set aside to combat Ebola.

But Fauci says that's short-sighted.

“I think there's a misperception that we are finished with Ebola,” he said. “It's important we don't take our eye off the ball with Ebola, because Ebola is not over. It had an explosive outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and 2015 and as recently as a few weeks ago we still see occasional cases and little pockets of outbreaks that occur.”

The NIH is drawing down the Ebola funding to work on a vaccine and study people who have survived, Fauci explained, while the CDC and USAID are still working to build health infrastructure in West African countries, so a future Ebola outbreak won't reach epidemic proportions.

Because of the delay in Congress, Fauci has had to shift $20 million away from NIH programs focused on malaria, tuberculosis and the flu.

Similarly, the CDC has clawed back $44 million that it was going to distribute to state and local health departments, for emergency preparedness. It will use that money for Zika, while it waits to see what Congress does.


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