For Immediate Release:                                                                                                                                     Media Contact: Liz Voyles                

March 31, 2016                                                                                                                                                     liz@brassrc.com, 202-297-9641                                                               

Texas Loses 10 Percent of its Public Health Preparedness Funding as State Faces Historic Zika Outbreak

 

WASHINGTON, DC – As Texas faces deep pubic health funding cuts in the middle of their response to the Zika virus outbreak, the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) is calling on Congress to pass the President’s $1.9 billion emergency funding request designed to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus. The Coalition membership consists of the 28 largest public health departments in the United States, including Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. Because the U.S. Congress has refused to pass supplemental funding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that the State of Texas will lose $3.6 million, or almost 10 percent of their Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding.  Texas has at least 27 confirmed cases of Zika (source: texaszika.org) and the main vector for the virus, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is present in the state.

The World Health Organization has concluded that Zika virus is highly likely to be a cause of microcephaly, Guillain-Barré syndrome and other neurological disorders. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy. 

“Cities and states are racing against the clock to prepare for and contain the spread of the Zika virus, and these cuts will directly impact the response on the ground to Zika as well as the other emergencies they face such as mumps, measles, and foodborne illness outbreaks,” said Chrissie Juliano, MPP, Director of the BCHC. “It’s time for Congress to get real about the potential cost of their inaction and give those fighting this public health emergency the resources they need to avert the serious and costly impact of Zika virus infection.”

“Our health department is working non-stop to address and prepare for a Zika outbreak,” said Vinny Taneja, MBBS, MPH, Health Director of Tarrant County Public Health. “PHEP is an integral piece of a community’s response plan. It is the capacity-building grant that has allowed us to respond to such emerging threats as the recent Ebola outbreak -- and now Zika. Without it, our capacity to respond to all hazards will be diminished.”

PHEP funding is a critical source of funding for state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments. Since 2002, the PHEP cooperative agreement has provided nearly $9 billion to public health departments across the nation to upgrade their ability to effectively respond to a range of public health threats, including infectious diseases, like Zika. However, this most recent cut means states are receiving 33% less than they received from PHEP a decade ago.

Many of BCHC’s local health departments are engaged in educating the public and health care providers about Zika, conducting prevention activities through mosquito eradication, and screening travelers from countries where the outbreak has surfaced. Emerging infectious disease threats like Zika require ongoing vigilance, but the particular risks from this virus require immediate, additional investments. BCHC urges Congress to act quickly on the President’s requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding – $1.48 billion of which would be provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This funding includes $828 million for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance activities, and $200 million for vaccine research and diagnostic development and procurement. With this funding, state and local health departments would be able to immediately increase their virus readiness and response capacity, particularly in areas with ongoing Zika transmission; enhance laboratory, epidemiology and surveillance capacity in at-risk areas to reduce the opportunities for Zika transmission; and stand up their surge capacity through rapid response teams.

Given continued cuts and overall limited investments in public health infrastructure, including vector surveillance and control, supplemental funding for emergent threats like Zika is necessary. But, it is just as important for Congress to sufficiently fund the core infectious disease (CID) program at CDC to help avert these situations in the future. CDC’s CID includes the vector-borne diseases program that provides resources to state and local health departments to detect, control, and prevent bacteria and viruses transmitted by mosquitoes.

Although not a new virus, 2015 marked the first widespread transmission of the Zika virus in the Americas. The virus is spread primarily by mosquitoes and usually causes only mild illness or no symptoms, but it may be causing a steep increase in birth defects in infants born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy. In January 2016, the CDC warned women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid travel to regions and countries with widespread Zika transmission or to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes there. The World Health Organization has recently declared a public health emergency of international concern due to the spike in microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in the Americas. The same mosquito also spreads dengue and chikungunya.

The Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) is a forum for the leaders of America’s largest metropolitan health departments to exchange strategies and jointly address issues to promote and protect the health and safety of their residents. Collectively, BCHC member jurisdictions directly impact more than 54 million people, or one in six Americans. The Big Cities Health Coalition is an independent project of the National Association of City and County Health Officials. For more information, please visitwww.bigcitieshealth.org.

 

###