Kate Covington and Jayne O'Donnell
Spending cuts in the Trump administration's proposed budget for 2018 will hit the agencies dedicated to fighting the Zika virus as the season for the mosquito-borne illness is starting and when the demand for higher spending is needed, city and county health officials say.
Members of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and the March of Dimes are lobbying Congress for more funding that covers a longer period of time to combat Zika, but say they are trying to develop a bigger coalition to make their case.
"We cannot wait until there’s a fire to want to go out and buy a fire a truck,” says Oscar Alleyne, NACCHO’s senior adviser for public health programs.
President Trump's budget proposed huge cuts to the agencies dedicated to — and most effective at — fighting Zika at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health services, said NACCHO President Claude Jacob.
Public health officials have been down this road before. Congress took 233 days to respond to the Zika outbreak last year, but a portion of the $1.1 billion lawmakers appropriated went to local health departments "to fund their work on the front lines of the outbreak," says Chrissie Juliano, director of NACCHO's Big Cities Health Coalition.
Health departments shifted around "scarce dollars" last summer and provided education on how to protect against Zika and targeted expectant parents and those who traveled to infected regions of other countries, she added.
"We are working hard this year to ensure this sort of long delay in the federal response to a rapidly spreading disease outbreak does not occur again," says Juliano.
A hiring freeze at the Department of Health and Human Services poses a threat along with the $838 million that will be cut from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization that oversees vaccine development, Kaiser Health News reported recently.
CDC says about 5,300 cases of Zika have been reported in the United States as of May 31, with 224 acquired from local mosquitoes and 5,206 in people who traveled to affected areas. Over 36,000 cases have been reported in U.S territories, CDC statistics show.