.By now you’ve probably heard of the Zika Virus and the harm it has caused in Brazil and other South and Central American countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Zika is comparable to the West Nile Virus, spread by mosquitoes and can cause fever, rash, joint pain and eye irritation. The real threat, however, is for pregnant women and their babies. Though rarely fatal, Zika can cause serious birth defects in newborn babies if an expectant mother is infected.
Zika is also a growing threat in the United States, particularly here in the South where mosquitoes flourish in the Summertime. As of May 25, 591 Zika infections have been reported in the United States, including at least 162 in pregnant women. So far, all infections have be the result of travel and not local transmissions.
This past week I met with CDC Director Dr. Thomas Freiden in my office for a briefing on the Zika situation. His team of experts is hard at work combatting this virus by closely monitoring its movement, controlling the mosquito population and educating the public about how best to avoid infections. The website www.CDC.gov/Zika is a great resource for anyone seeking information about the virus.
Congress is also taking action to ensure our country is prepared to prevent and combat a Zika outbreak. The House recently passed bipartisan legislation to encourage the development, testing and distribution of a Zika vaccine as well as the Zika Vector Control Act to remove Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on mosquito sprays that can be essential to preventing infections.
Of course, in situations like these it is also important to ensure our response agencies have the resources they need to meet the emerging threat. However, instead of writing a “blank check,” the House Appropriations Committee has sought to be responsible with the use of taxpayers’ money in crafting a funding plan.
First, we insisted the Administration use existing funds left over from the Ebola outbreak response to meet any emergency needs. Next, we crafted a plan that includes $622 million allocated between the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Biomedical Advances Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and other agencies helping to administer Zika response and vaccine development. This appropriation is fully paid for through reprograming unused administrative funding from Health and Human Services and additional leftover Ebola response accounts. Finally, the House plan also places important constraints on the use of these funds and requires full transparency for how they are spent.
House Speaker Paul Ryan asked me to serve on the Conference Committee charged with working out the differences between the House and Senate versions of Zika funding bills. I will work alongside my colleagues to reach a final bill that provides the needed resources to combat this virus while remaining responsible with the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband, Riley, and their two children.