The Zika virus, which has become active in the Miami, Florida area, is most often transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, and has the potential to spread rapidly. US government officials are taking this threat seriously by actively spraying to destroy mosquitoes and their breeding areas, as well as encouraging the public to take preventative measures. Although the number of Zika cases continue to grow, funding toward preventative efforts has been slow, and may be too little too late.
The symptoms of the Zika virus are often mild, but can be devastating for pregnant women. Zika has been linked to birth defects, including a rare congenital condition called microcephaly in which infants are born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development. No vaccine is currently available to prevent the virus.
The federal response to Zika kicked off in February 2016 with the Zika Virus: Department of Homeland Security Response plan, which called for close monitoring of signs of the illness at and between ports of entry, cooperation between government agencies, enhanced protection at detention facilities, and workforce education on the virus.
At that time, President Obama requested $1.8 billion in funding from Congress, to confront the virus and response struggles.
On the state level, Florida has been on the frontlines of the fight to combat Zika. As Homeland Security Today previously reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an historic travel warning this summer advising pregnant women and those thinking about becoming pregnant to avoid travel to a Miami, Florida neighborhood, which had seen over a dozen confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika virus at that time.
Just last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) called for the CDC to provide 5,000 antibody tests, 10,000 Zika prevention kits, and lab personnel to assist with testing efforts. In response, the CDC sent less than 1,200 antibody tests. Scott expressed concern that lack of financial assistance and other resources could mean the virus will continue to spread.
“Florida now has 43 cases of locally acquired Zika and the Obama Administration must quickly fulfill our entire request so that we can continue to provide the resources our state needs to combat this virus,” said Scott. “I have also repeatedly called on the Obama Administration to provide a detailed plan on how Florida should work with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] on how federal resources will be allocated to combat this virus. I expect the Obama Administration to be a good partner and work quickly to fulfill these requests.”
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) has remained vigilant in their efforts to prevent the spread of Zika, and, last week, designated $5 million in state funds to Miami-Dade County for mosquito control and prevention. This designated funding is part of the $26.2 million pledge made in June by Governor Scott to combat Zika.
Yet, overall funding allocated by the federal government for such a response remains lacking. Scott said he plans to travel to Washington DC in early September to meet with Congress to relay the need for more assistance in the way of federal support.
“Since Congress decided to go on a seven-week vacation, the state of Florida has been hard at work combating the Zika virus,” Scott said. “I will travel to Washington DC to meet with members of Congress on the day they return to work to make sure they immediately get something done on this urgent issue. The Zika virus demands immediate federal action and I will impress upon our congressional members the urgency to protect our residents and visitors.”
The state of Florida has been making its own contributions to diminish the spread of the disease, and the federal government is now being called to do the same.
“Earlier this summer, following the federal government’s failure to act and fund this national issue, I authorized more than $26 million in emergency state funds for Zika prevention and response. Today, more than $23 million of those funds have been allocated to local mosquito control and Zika preparedness efforts," Scott said.
The federal government’s weak response to Zika calls into question how other public health emergencies could be handled. Unfortunately, some of the delays may be coming from political disagreements, especially when funding is involved.
“The health and safety of Florida’s families cannot be overshadowed by partisan politics,” Scott said. “Our state has several requests that the Obama Administration has repeatedly failed to fulfill and I expect the president to work with his federal agencies and Congress to fully fulfill these requests quickly. I work hand in hand with our Florida Legislature to do what is best for Florida’s families and we expect the president and Congress to do the same.”