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President Obama on Monday formally requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding for the US response to the Zika virus outbreak and urged Congress to take action “expeditiously.”

The White House said earlier this month that the president would request the funding, shortly after the World Health Organization declared the serious complications associated with Zika — such as babies born with abnormally small heads and a neurological condition that causes paralysis — to be a global health emergency.


In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Obama said his “foremost priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans.”

“This request supports the necessary steps to fortify our domestic health system, detect and respond to any potential Zika outbreaks at home, and to limit the spread in other countries,” Obama said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 50 cases of the mosquito-born Zika virus among US travelers since December, Obama said. There is one known case in which a patient in Texas contracted the virus without traveling. In that case, the virus was transmitted sexually from a partner who had traveled to a Zika-affected country.


Are you at risk for contracting Zika virus? Your level of risk depends in part on your living conditions. Alex Hogan/STAT

Much of the funding being requested by Obama, nearly $830 million, would go to the CDC to pay for a wide range of emergency response activities, including money for Puerto Rico and other territories that have already seen locally transmitted Zika cases and to fund increased capacity to monitor for and respond to cases in the mainland United States. Funding for research into the effects on pregnant women and their children would also be included.

Another $130 million would go to the National of Institutes of Health for research into a Zika vaccine, as well as basic research on the virus and its history. A substantial sum, $335 million, would fund the US Agency for International Development to aid countries in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean that are dealing with the virus.

Obama previously discussed Zika with Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a private meeting. Some lawmakers have suggested that, before requesting additional funds, the administration should first use money that was previously appropriated for the response to the Ebola crisis.