In July, California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer promoted a public health emergency funding bill to help health officials with responding to epidemics and other public health emergencies.
Today, Sen Boxer introduced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Emergency Response Act of 2016 that would create a $2 billion Emergency Response Fund that the CDC Director could access to respond to public health emergencies as soon as they arise. The bill also includes robust Congressional oversight to ensure funds are spent prudently, while ensuring the nation’s public health response is not stalled by politics.
“This legislation will ensure that when there is a public health emergency or the threat of a public health emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can respond immediately to prevent it from becoming a national or global crisis,” Senator Boxer said.
The CDC Emergency Response Act of 2016 would insulate the nation’s public health response from the politics that have plagued our response to the Zika virus. In February, the President requested $1.9 billion to combat the Zika virus. For more than seven months, Congress has failed to fund this request despite the fact that local transmission has now reached the continental United States and a growing body of research has shown that the virus can cause serious health issues.
The Zika virus, which is transmitted through bites from the same kinds of mosquitos that carry dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya, can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse. In most cases the symptoms of Zika are mild, but increasing data has shown that the virus can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly in babies born to infected mothers, as well as possible neurological effects and paralysis in adults. The Zika virus has already infected 2,964 people across the United States.
This follows Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s similar proposal in late August. She then said as President she would create a new Public Health Rapid Response Fund.
“The United States faces new threats to public health, from pandemic diseases like those caused by the Ebola and the Zika viruses, to the risk of biological weapons and bioterrorism, to long-term challenges like more extreme weather and expanding ranges for Lyme disease and water-borne illnesses as a result of climate change. And in a global economy, diseases like SARS, MERS, and avian influenza cannot be contained in their countries of origin.
“But despite these threats, we are not investing in public health preparedness and emergency response the way we should to keep our families and communities safe. A 2015 study found that spending on public health had fallen more than 9 percent since 2008. And uncertain long-term budgets leave our public health agencies dependent on emergency appropriations—meaning that when Congress fails to step up, communities are left without the resources they need, vaccines languish in development, and more people get sick.
“That is why as President, I will create a Public Health Rapid Response Fund, with consistent, year-to-year budgets, to better enable the CDC, HHS, FEMA, state and local public health departments, hospital systems, and other federal agencies to quickly and aggressively respond to major public health crises and pandemics. I will also ensure that our government has strong leadership and is organized to better support and work with people on the ground facing public health challenges. Doctors and public health experts have been warning for months that the Zika virus was likely to reach the continental United States, but Congress has failed to pass the President’s emergency funding request. As a result, the Zika virus has gained a foothold in Miami, and 196 people have already been infected in the city—infections that may have been preventable.
“In addition, we need to do more to boost our preparedness for biological threats and bioweapons; to support research for new diagnostic tests, therapeutic treatments, and vaccines for emerging diseases; to build capacity in public health departments; to train the next cadre of public health professionals and ensure that public health and environmental health practices are standard to the educations of medical students; and to provide resources for states and local governments to plan for complex, multi-faceted public health threats, like the impacts of climate change, and build more resilient communities.”