A group of 68 organizations, including a number of medical societies, have called on Congress to pass an emergency spending bill requested by President Obama to fund activities to combat the spread of Zika virus.
In letters sent to House and Senate leaders, the groups called on Congress to “provide new funding rather than repurpose money from other high-priority programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to ensure our health security and public health preparedness.”
On Feb. 22, President Obama asked Congress to consider $1.9 billion in supplemental spending related to the Zika virus. Congress has not acted on the request.
“According to the World Health Organization, the virus is spreading explosively, and scientists predict there will be $3 million to $4 million new infections in the Americas this year,” Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III, executive vice president and CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said during an April 5 press conference. “Zika is expected to infect 1 in 5 – 20% – of Puerto Ricans by the end of 2016 and as summer draws near, it may spread to the continental United States.”
There is “great concern” among ob.gyns. who may treat pregnant women exposed to Zika virus, Dr. Lawrence said. “These physicians strive to provide the best possible care for their patients. However, as health care providers, we just don’t have enough information at this time, nor enough treatment options.”
He emphasized that there are no treatment options or preventions guidelines “other than avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and using contraception if you don’t want to get pregnant.”
The lack of information and uncertainty makes it difficult for women “to make decisions about planning their pregnancies and causes pregnant women to suffer anxiety and distress,” he said. “In order to do more, we must know more. That’s why we are pleading with Congress to pass the emergency supplemental spending bill that President Obama has requested.”
Joining ACOG on the letter are American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America, HIV Medicine Association, March of Dimes, and others. Pharmaceutical manufacturers Johnson & Johnson and Novavax are signatories as well.
“If we take immediate action, we may be able to dramatically slow the spread of Zika, giving scientists time to develop and test a vaccine,” according to the letter. “Without action, we fear the number of newborns born with debilitating birth defects will only continue to rise.”