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The White House Is Redirecting $598 Million From The Fight Against Ebola To Combat Zika

A blood-engorged female Aedes albopictus mosquito feeding on a human host. Photo James Gathany
A blood-engorged female Aedes albopictus mosquito feeding on a human host. Photo James Gathany

With summer approaching, the risk of a surge in cases of the Zika virus has become a major concern for US officials, and the White House has announced that they would be redirecting money earmarked for Ebola to efforts combatting Zika.

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The Obama administration made a strong push in 2014 and 2015 to help curtail the West African Ebola Outbreak, and it largely worked: the outbreak has subsided (with some sporadic cases still appearing). With that in mind, the Administration seems to be ready to shift gears to focus on the next immediate threat.

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During a White House briefing earlier this week, Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced that the administration would be “reprogramming” $598 million dollars originally designated to combat Ebola, using it instead to fund counter-Zika efforts:

So earlier today, as many of you may have seen, the administration announced that we would reprogram about $600 million to bolster the ongoing Zika response. We’ve consistently said that an available option for the government was to repurpose some existing Ebola funds that would not undermine our fight against that deadly disease. But we also told Congress that just using some of the Ebola funds would be insufficient. And that should be an indication to you that today’s actions to reprogram $600 million is a temporary fix and not at all a long-term solution.

Earlier this year, the White House asked Congress for $1.8 Billion, which would largely go into Mosquito control programs:

The funding would be split between the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for International Development and the State Department to support mosquito control programs, vaccine research and health services for low-income pregnant women, the White House said in a statement.

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However, Congress has yet to act on the request, and Earnest noted that many of the local agencies that they’ve spoken with simply don’t have the resources to commit to contain or slow the spread of the virus, should it arrive in the US:

Just last week, the administration convened a summit in Atlanta of top state and local health officials, nonprofit officials, and health care experts. We heard from states that they’re keenly aware of the threat that the disease poses, and many do not have the money that they need for basic tasks that would prevent the spread of Zika.

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This is an extremely short-gap fix: the $598 million represents just a third of what was requested from Congress, while also depriving the efforts used to combat Ebola from other resources. While the West African outbreak has subsided, it hasn’t completely ended, and further efforts will be required in order to ensure that individual cases don’t become larger clusters.

[White House, NPR]

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Andrew Liptak is the former Weekend editor of io9/Gizmodo. He is the co-editor of War Stories: New Military Science Fiction and hails from Vermont.

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DISCUSSION

gigglestickier
gigglestickier

I’m glad this money will go to “support mosquito control programs, vaccine research and health services for low-income pregnant women”, since these are good things, regardless of how much of a threat Zika is.

But I hope this is not an example of the political illusion that there is only X amount of money for certain purposes, and if anyone wants to do something new in that category, money must be take away from something else in that category. Health, international aid, social welfare and arts funding are particularly apt to be treated in that way. It is possible to take measures against Zika and Ebola without de-funding Ebola, just as it’s possible to take money from one pocket and move it to another.

For some purposes, though, there always seems to be money. For example, I’ve never heard a politician say “we’re taking money away from the submarine budget, to increase the aircraft budget.” And there’s money for perks, fact-finding missions, and so on.