Contact: David Fouse, 202-777-2501
‘It’s not about politics; it’s about public health. Approve emergency Zika funding now!’
Remarks of Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director, American Public Health Association, during Capitol Hill news conference
Good morning. I am Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. As head of the leading organization that speaks out for public health issues and policies backed by science, it’s a no-brainer that I join you here today. The science is clear. The threat is here and lives are being impacted as we stand here today.
We are in the middle of a public health disaster. More than 16,000 people have been infected with the Zika virus in the U.S. and its territories. That number is likely much higher given that most infections are asymptomatic. Seventeen babies in the U.S. have been born with microcephaly and many more neurologically impacted. Tragically, one infant has died. A public health emergency has been declared in Puerto Rico, where a fourth of the island is likely to become infected with the virus by the end of this year, including thousands of pregnant women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the first-ever domestic travel advisory, warning pregnant women not to travel to areas of Florida where local transmission of Zika has already occurred.
We know that Zika poses grave health risks: microcephaly, other major fetal birth defects and Guillain-Barré syndrome. But there is a lot we still need to learn about this serious threat.
Since early this year, APHA has been calling for a comprehensive response that helps communities prepare for and mitigate local transmission of Zika. We urged a robust response that enhances laboratory and surveillance capacity, contains Zika in areas where it is already present and provides lifesaving services for affected pregnant women and children.
But our calls have gone unanswered by some in Congress. Instead, they’ve asked our public health officials to shift money from other public health priorities putting others at risk from unrelated health threats and proposed policy barriers to getting the funding our people desperately need.
Our nation's public health agencies are performing heroic work, and we applaud them. But the path some members of Congress have chosen is the wrong way to fight a serious epidemic.
It's not about politics;it's about public health. Give our public health professionals in communities around the country the tools they need to do their job and to protect our health. Congress must act by approving emergency funding for Zika now.
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The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We strengthen the public health profession. We speak out for public health issues and policies backed by science. We are the only organization that influences federal policy, has a 140-plus year perspective and brings together members from all fields of public health. Visit www.apha.org.