Aug 25 2016
Another stalemate, another party-line vote – another failure to combat the Zika virus is unacceptable when Congress returns to Capitol Hill. Since its initial outbreak in April 2015, the Zika virus has spread to more than 60 countries and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1,900 cases have now been diagnosed in the continental United States.
Our country is already vulnerable by virtue of geography. The virus has spread by mosquitoes whose climate includes much of the Americas and our home state of Kansas. We have begun to see person-to-person contraction of the virus among men, women and children who have never left the country. This means that, in our global society, Zika poses a serious threat no matter where you live. Zika is unique in that it disproportionately poses a risk to pregnant women, carrying with it the possibility for microcephaly – a condition that stunts fetal brain development and head growth during pregnancy. It is suspected Zika may also cause Guillain-Barré syndrome and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), both of which are devastating, potentially fatal neurologic diseases.
Through my role – as both a member and lead Republican – on the Senate Health Appropriations Subcommittee, I developed a relationship with CDC Director Tom Frieden. In addition to visiting the CDC last fall to learn more about its response to disease outbreaks, I also worked with Director Frieden at the height of the Ebola crisis. When I first heard from him about Zika during a committee hearing this spring, the need for our nation to act was clear.
The good news is that medical experts are hard at work developing a vaccine to restrict Zika’s spread and a treatment to alleviate its effects. This includes the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI) at Kansas State University in Manhattan. I visited the BRI this week to learn more about the progress being made to defend our country from this dangerous virus and eliminate it worldwide.
Our medical researchers are the best in the world, but they cannot stop the spread of this virus or find a cure without resources. Progress has been made possible by reprogramming CDC funds, but that funding is only sufficient through September. Congress must make certain our experts have what they need to protect the health of mothers and children.
I have already supported a fiscally responsible approach to fighting Zika, which reprioritizes unspent federal funds to be made available to the CDC. A large portion of these dollars were originally intended to set up health care exchanges in U.S. territories through the Affordable Care Act, and can immediately be put to use.
Our nation’s citizens are fed up with the excuse-making in Washington. They want results. They want to see challenges met head-on. Americans should know that their representatives are fulfilling their constitutional duty to protect the health of the American people. Despite our differences, consensus must be found for the good of the country and its citizens.
Americans are at risk and they are frustrated – they deserve to be. I’m frustrated, too. I will continue to advocate for a solution to ensure this opportunity to make a difference is not squandered. No woman’s reaction to learning she is pregnant should be fear due to the Zika virus. No newborn child’s well-being should be endangered because their nation’s leaders lack the will to get the job done. With stakes this high, the status quo just won’t cut it.