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Schumer: Fight To Prevent Zika Virus Is Dramatically Underfunded; Upstate NY Health Officials & Medical Providers Need Immediate Federal Funding

Senator Says $1.9 Billion In Emergency Fed Funding Is Vital To Preventing The Spread of Zika Virus In The Capital Region

Schumer: Congress Must Get Serious And Swat Down Rising Number of Cases Across the U.S. Before Summer Of Zika Takes Hold

Standing at Albany Medical Center, and in the wake of the recently reported 189 cases of Zika virus in New York State – including cases in both Albany and Schenectady Counties – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the virus. Schumer said that upstate hospitals, medical providers, and public health systems need immediate access to money to fight the spread of the virus. Zika virus is suspected to cause Microcephalus,commonly known as microcephaly, in fetuses, and Schumer said that Congress must approve emergency funding to protect pregnant mothers and their children before it is too late. 

“With so many women and families across the Capital Region looking for action, it is critical that members of Congress work together to green-light this $1.9 billion in emergency funding. We need to get this done as soon as possible so that we can help stem the spread of Zika,” said Schumer. “Simply put, anyone repellent to this emergency funding plan isn’t serious about beating Zika. When it comes to fighting this epidemic, a stitch in time will save nine – so I will do everything in my power to make sure emergency funding is delivered.”

Schumer is pushing legislation and the President’s emergency funding request of $1.9 billion, which would help prevent the spread of the Zika epidemic. Schumer said that more than 800 Americans have already contracted Zika, with more than 180 confirmed cases in New York State. Most recently, there were two cases found in the Capital Region in Albany and Schenectady Counties. Schumer said this proves the disease is still spreading and Congress must act to help stop it. Schumer said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently confirmed the link between Zika during pregnancy and severe birth defects, like microcephaly. Therefore, Schumer said these funds are critical in the fight against Zika, and that Congress must deliver this funding before the epidemic spreads and more cases are brought to the United States come mosquito season.

President Obama’s supplemental emergency funding request – now part of legislation sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson [D-FL] – includes a comprehensive response to the Zika virus. Specifically, these emergency federal funds would allow the U.S. to take critical steps in the response to Zika at home and abroad. For instance, the plan would improve vector control, expand access to family planning and contraceptives, and accelerate efforts to developing a vaccine. There is currently no treatment or vaccine available for Zika. Funds could be used to provide for mosquito control programs across the country, and in the Capital Region. Mosquito control programs typically involve surveillance methods, source reduction methods and other control strategies. Additionally, the funds would help perfect diagnostic tools and testing.

Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person who has already been infected by the virus. The Aedes aegypti mosquito species has spread most of the cases; these types of mosquitoes have been found in Florida and Hawaii. The Asian Tiger mosquito is also known to transmit the virus; these types of mosquitoes have been found in New York and Chicago.

Schumer was joined by Mr. James Barba, CEO of Albany Medical Center; ‎physicians from Albany Medical Center’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Albany County Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen; and Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.

Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said, “I want to commend Senator Schumer for calling for greater federal resources for emergency funding to protect the public. The federal government has the resources and the responsibility to protect the public and work with local providers and local governments to provide control strategies and funding for diagnosis and testing. We do not have the luxury of time as we battle Zika together and I am pleased that Senator Schumer is fighting for New Yorkers on this issue.”       

James J. Barba, President and CEO of Albany Medical Centersaid, “Because we are the only academic medical center in the region, Albany Med is the first responder for millions of individuals who need care for critical, unusual, and life-threatening situations.  I’m grateful for Sen. Schumer’s leadership on this and so many other issues critical to public health and for continually recognizing the important role the federal government must play in helping hospitals and public health agencies fight outbreaks of disease.”   

Common symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. However, the virus may cause more serious risks to those who are pregnant. Earlier this year, the CDC confirmed that the Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other birth defects.  Microcephaly is a rare condition in which the baby’s head is abnormally small and can have brain damage. Thousands of infants in Brazil have already been born with microcephaly since last spring. More than 800 Americans have been infected with the Zika virus, including about 90 pregnant women, in 40 states, Washington, D.C., and 3 U.S. Territories. In New York, there have been at least 180 confirmed case; last Friday, a case was reported in Niagara County. So far, approximately 1.5 million people have contracted the virus in Brazil. Zika virus has spread to more than two dozen countries including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Saint Martin, Venezuela and others.

Previously, Schumer called for a three-point federal plan aimed at containing the Zika virus:

  • First, Schumer called on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to prioritize and increase its involvement in Zika-affected countries abroad in order to better prevent, contain and treat the virus. USAID is one of the lead government entities that works overseas to help improve global health, help societies prevent and recover from conflicts, and more. 
  • Second, Schumer called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to focus resources to expeditiously develop a vaccine and to work alongside the private sector in doing so. Currently, there is no cure, treatment or vaccine available for Zika, which can be extremely serious to pregnant women because of possible birth defects—like microcephaly--linked to the virus.
  • Lastly, Schumer successfully called on the U.S. to push the World Health Organization (WHO) to publicly declare a health emergency. On February 1st, the WHO official declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern soon after Schumer’s push. Schumer has also called for a Zika Czar to better help fight the virus before it spreads further and more cases are brought to the United States.