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Congress sends Zika funding bill to President


 

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In a move that narrowly avoids a government shutdown, Congress has passed a long-awaited bill that keeps the government afloat and provides $1.1 billion in funding to combat the Zika virus.

The House cleared H.R. 5325 late Sept. 28 by a 342-85 tally, following a 72-26 vote by the Senate earlier in the day. The final package, which keeps the government operating through Dec. 9, also includes $37 million for opioid addiction and $500 million for flooding in Louisiana. The White House has indicated that President Obama will sign the bill into law.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists praised Congress for passing the long-delayed comprehensive Zika funding package.

Dr. Thomas Gellhaus

Dr. Thomas Gellhaus

“Congress has finally treated Zika like the emergency it is and shown the American people that it is capable of rising above partisanship for the health of its citizens,” Thomas Gellhaus, MD, ACOG president, said in a statement. “ACOG stands with peer organizations and government agencies in the fight to prevent and respond to the Zika virus and support the care and treatment of all people affected by it. ... The fight against the spread of Zika cannot be won without the resources to support responsive and proactive solutions. This comprehensive funding package is essential to our success and the health of women and babies.”

The bill’s passage caps months of fiery debate within Congress over what to include in the measure. The bill stalled earlier this week largely over whether to direct funds to Flint, Mich., to deal with the crisis over lead-tainted water. Leaders agreed to provide aid to Flint residents in a separate water projects bill. Legislators will address final approval of the Flint measure in December.

Of the $1.1 billion included in the final package to fight Zika, $15 million would go to Florida and $60 million to the territory of Puerto Rico to respond to Zika outbreaks in those areas. The remainder of the funding would be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to Zika; health conditions related to such virus; and other vector-borne diseases, domestically and internationally.

Dr. Andrew W. Gurman

Dr. Andrew W. Gurman

If signed by the President, the money would also go toward developing necessary countermeasures and vaccines, including the development and purchase of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and necessary medical supplies. Additionally, the funding would aid research on the virology, natural history, and pathogenesis of the Zika virus infection and preclinical and clinical development of vaccines and other medical countermeasures for the Zika virus.

The American Medical Association expressed relief that Congress had finally taken action to provide resources for fighting Zika.

“It has been clear over the past several months that the U.S. has needed additional resources to combat the Zika virus,” AMA president Andrew W. Gurman, MD, said in a statement. “With the threat of the virus continuing to loom, this funding will help protect more people – particularly pregnant women and their children – from the virus’s lasting negative health effects.”

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