By Kim Krisberg
Last year’s emergency Zika funding is about to run out and there’s no new money in the pipeline. It’s emblematic of the kind of short-term, reactive policymaking that public health officials have been warning us about for years. Now, as we head into summer, public health again faces a dangerous, highly complex threat along with an enormous funding gap.
“The Zika threat will get worse,” said Claude Jacob, chief public health officer at the Cambridge Public Health Department in Massachusetts and president of the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO). “And the consequences for women and their babies are very serious.”
Jacob spoke during a May 31 press briefing on the 2017 Zika threat organized by NACCHO, March of Dimes, and the Big Cities Health Coalition (a forum for the nation’s largest metropolitan health departments). Speakers discussed the state of the Zika outbreak — there are now nearly 5,300 Zika cases reported in the U.S., including more than 1,800 pregnant women — as well as evolving research on the virus’ health effects. But the overarching message was clear: keeping the Zika virus at relative bay will require continued and sustained investment. Gaps in funding, they said, will have an especially acute impact at the community level, where local public health agencies serve as a frontline defense against the mosquito-borne virus.
“Local health departments need that sustained investment — they can’t wait for Congress to take months to act,” said Oscar Alleyne, senior advisor for public health programs at NACCHO, referring to Congress’ months-long delay in authorizing the 2016 Zika funding. “We can’t wait until there’s a fire to want to go out and buy a fire truck.”