The Obama administration announced Wednesday it is diverting more than $500 million in Ebola funding to bolster Zika research and preparation, but framed it as a temporary salve and called on Congress to approve its full funding request.
Overall, the Obama administration is funneling $589 million into the Zika fight, $510 million of which will come from the Ebola fund and the rest from other health programs.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the funding will support:
- mosquito control and surveillance in states and cities;
- the development and manufacturing of improved diagnostic tests;
- vaccine work;
- the Zika response in Puerto Rico;
- and general research into the virus and its effects.
The administration in February asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funds to help stem the Zika virus that has been spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, but House Republican leaders have argued that unspent Ebola dollars should be used first.
Administration officials had resisted tapping the Ebola money to fuel the Zika fight, but said Wednesday they could not wait any longer for Congress to act. They again called on Congress to speedily approve the Zika funding request so the United States can have a full response ready as mosquito season approaches.
Without additional funding, “there are activities that we cannot start now,” said Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “There are activities in the coming months that we may need to stop doing.”
Congress still needs to approve the full $1.9 billion response so that the Ebola fund can be replenished, administration officials said. The World Health Organization last week determined that the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, no longer amounted to an international health emergency, but a dozen recent cases have popped up in Guinea and Liberia.
Some House Republicans have signaled an openness to refilling any depletion in the Ebola fund with a future funding bill if money is diverted to Zika.
In the long term, “we don’t have the option to set one aside in the name of the other,” Burwell said about fully funding both the Zika and Ebola responses.