On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) highlighted new legislation she plans to introduce – the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Act –
within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The fund could be used upon the declaration of a public health emergency or potential public health emergency by the Secretary of HHS or by the activation of emergency operations by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Senator Boxer discussed her bill, which will be introduced later this year, at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing yesterday on the risks and response to the Zika virus in the Western Hemisphere with CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden, and other federal officials.
“We need to act and we need to act now. This threat is real and it’s dangerous,” Senator Boxer said. “We cannot play politics with a public health epidemic. This crisis is only getting worse, and many more lives could be changed forever without a proper response.
“It’s absolutely critical that Congress pass a bipartisan, sensible Zika funding bill that both sides can agree to. The Senate has already passed such a bill,” she added, “I also think we should look at another approach for these kinds of epidemics. My legislation would create a $3 billion emergency public health fund within the Department of Health and Human Services and allow the CDC and HHS to use those funds to address global health threats. I hope my legislation will allow us to avoid the political stalemate we’re in today with Zika response funding.”
Where an emergency declaration by the President is appropriate for natural disasters, public health emergencies can be largely preventable if the response is timely and effective. For example, if the CDC had the authority and resources to act and respond to emerging threats, they could potentially intervene and control an infectious disease outbreak before the threat becomes a full-blown epidemic.
Under the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Act, funding could be used to combat the Zika virus, which is transmitted via bites from the same kinds of mosquitos that carry dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya, and 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 serious health issues. Research has linked the virus to severe birth defects, including microcephaly in babies born to infected mothers, as well as possible neurological effects and paralysis in adults.