$589 million shifted to fund fight against Zika virus

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The White House has given in to the Republican-controlled Congress on one source for funding the battle against the Zika virus. (WPVI)

Some of the federal money left over from the largely successful fight against Ebola will now go to combating the growing threat of the Zika virus, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.

Most of the $589 million would be devoted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for research on the virus and Zika-related birth defects, as well as mosquito control efforts.

The National Institutes of Health would continue research into a vaccine and the U.S. Agency for International Development would intensify efforts to fight the virus overseas.

Calls to redirect the money have been controversial.

When some lawmakers first proposed this, many, including the White House, were against it. They wanted to keep the Ebola money there in case there is another outbreak of Ebola.

President Barack Obama has asked for about $1.9 billion in emergency money to fight Zika, however, the request has stalled in the GOP-controlled Congress.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest today said the administration still needs the full amount, to both fight Zika and be ready if there is another Ebola virus outbreak.

Earnest said new discoveries about the Zika virus increased the urgency for the funds.

"First, we've learned that sexual transmission of the virus is, actually, more common than was initially believed. Second, we've learned that the impact of the virus on fetal brain development is likely starker and more serious than we first understood. Third, in the United States, the geographical range of the mosquito, that carries this virus, is significantly broader than our initial estimate," said Earnest.

"We continue to be concerned about the potential impact of this virus on the public health situation inside the United States," continued Earnest.

He promised Republicans would regret stalling the funding request.

"At some point, they're going to have to choose whether or not their animosity toward President Obama trumps their desire to try to protect pregnant women in their states from this terrible disease," Earnest said.

And late Wednesday, the White House posted a new map on its website, showing the potential reach of mosquitoes capable of carrying Zika virus.

Researchers fear Zika causes microcephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby's head is too small, as well as posing other threats to the children of pregnant women infected with it.

Officials said agencies would not be able to achieve a complete response to Zika without additional funding.

For instance, additional money must be approved to manufacture vaccines, purchase diagnostic tests and undertake mosquito control throughout the rainy season in Central America and the Caribbean, among other activities.

"We cannot wait for this supplemental. We cannot wait for the fall," Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan said. "There are real consequences and risks for waiting."

While the administration has acknowledged that substantial Ebola funding is left over, it has already committed much of it to helping at least 30 other countries prevent, detect and respond to future outbreaks and epidemics. It also wants to preserve money to keep fighting Ebola should it flare up again.

"We've made important progress to keep Americans safe from these public health threats here and abroad, but these efforts need to continue and they can't be stopped or shortchanged," Burwell said. "We face two real global health challenges, Ebola and Zika, and we don't have an option to set one aside in the name of the other."

The impending move comes as there's greater urgency to battle the Zika virus as summer weather leads to mosquito season and a potential broader spread of the virus.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said there are 672 confirmed cases in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the United States, including 64 pregnant women.

Zika can also be transmitted through sexual contact and it's estimated that 40 million people will travel between the U.S. and countries with Zika outbreaks.

Action on a stand-alone emergency spending bill seems improbable in the bitterly partisan atmosphere in Washington, though such funding could be attached to larger legislation later in the year.

At the same time, both the White House and top Republicans have tried to work cooperatively despite the difficult environment.

"I told the White House I'd be supportive of a supplemental if they could show me where the money goes and what it could do," said Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for foreign aid.
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