Senate Democrats just voted to block a responsible solution (which House Republicans passed last week) that provides funding to actively address the Zika Virus and the threat it poses both to the United States and countries around the world.
Addressing this public health crisis requires targeted funding and sensible solutions to keep this virus from spreading to the U.S. It is crucial that we push forward in finding a way to secure funding to fight this dangerous virus.
That’s what we know. Here’s what we don’t know:
- Why Senate Democrats are blocking responsible, targeted Zika funding – after demanding it for months and supporting this exact level previously.
- Or why during a recent House Science Committee hearing, leading experts didn’t seem to know why the Administration hasn’t raised the travel alert level – especially at a time when, as Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) puts it, “our citizens, men and women, pregnant or otherwise, need their government to provide accurate information about the potential risks of traveling to countries where the Zika virus is spreading.”
Chairman Smith talks more about the risks of traveling to Zika prone areas in this op-ed published online for the Washington Times, explaining that the only occurrences of Zika in the U.S. have resulted from travel-associated exposure.
With summer here, and the 2016 Olympics on the horizon, now is a good time to catch Chairman Smith’s op-ed on the need for accurate and available information on Zika. In case you missed it, here are the highlights:
On the Need for Travel Warnings:
Thus far, every Zika case in the continental United States has been attributed to travel-associated exposure. … The Obama administration has no excuse not to raise the travel warnings to Level 3 for Brazil and Colombia and probably other countries.
On Unanswered Questions:
During the Science Committee’s hearing, I asked our witnesses about the risks posed by travel to countries where Zika infection rates are highest.
• Why has the administration not raised the travel alert level for countries with the highest number of Zika infections, such as Brazil and Colombia?
• Is the administration so worried about attendance at the Olympic Games in Brazil this summer that it is willing to endanger American lives by not providing better warnings?
No one has answers to these questions. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued only Level 2 travel alerts, which advise travelers to only “practice enhanced precautions.” It has not issued any Level 3 warnings to “avoid nonessential travel,” as it did with the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in February declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This declaration is reserved for a situation that is “serious, unusual or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border; and may require immediate international action.”
But neither the CDC nor the WHO go far enough to protect the health of travelers throughout the world. While CDC alerts include special precautions for pregnant women, the warnings for men and women hardly seem sufficient when compared to the potential consequences. Instead of demanding that Congress provide more funds for activities that may or may not be effective in stopping the virus, the administration should start with one simple step that would be guaranteed to slow the spread of Zika to the United States: raise the travel alert to Level 3 for Brazil, Colombia and other countries with high levels of Zika infections.
Read Chairman Smith’s full op-ed here.