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July 14, 2016                                                                                                                      Liz Voyles, liz@brassrc.com, 202-297-9641

 

Big Cities Health Coalition Condemns Lack of Congressional Action on Zika Virus

Legislators Leave without Providing Dollars for Response

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) expressed disappointment with the U.S. Congress today, as they leave for seven weeks without addressing the Zika virus outbreak gripping the country.

The Coalition consists of the 28 largest, most urban public health departments in the country, representing approximately 1 in 6 Americans. These local health departments are on the front lines of fighting the outbreak by educating the public and health care providers about Zika, screening travelers from countries where the outbreak is more advanced, and scaling up mosquito control programs.

“The spread of Zika virus has created a public health emergency that needs to be addressed now,” said Chrissie Juliano, MPP, Director of the Big Cities Health Coalition. “For months Congress has failed to act, which has real consequences not only for those who are already infected but for those who are at risk – expectant mothers and their children. Without federal funding, more Americans will be needlessly infected, crucial vaccine development may be stalled, and strapped public health departments will continue to scramble to keep up, doing more with less. Protecting the American people from infectious disease is a bedrock responsibility of the federal government, and right now, Congress is failing to do its job.”

The international medical community found that Zika causes microcephaly, a debilitating brain defect in fetuses that can prevent a child from ever walking or talking. The White House requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding in February, in an effort to help the public health workforce plan and execute their response to the evolving outbreak before mosquito season reached its peak. Federal legislators acted in the spring when the U.S. Senate voted to commit$1.1 billion to the response, and the U.S. House followed suit, passing a version of that bill that made $750 million of budget cuts to other health programs. However, they have failed to come to a compromise on a final bill, and the number of infected Americans climbs daily. So far, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked Zika to 12 cases of suspected birth defects or miscarriages, out of 320 women who have tested positive for the virus. In the U.S. territories, 279 pregnant women are infected.

A lack of resources for Zika response at the CDC resulted in deep cuts to Public Health Emergency Preparedness funds for state and local health departments this spring, as public health officials were readying their communities for the epidemic. Local and state health departments would use emergency funding to increase their 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.

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 visit www.bigcitieshealth.org.

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