Durbin Calls on Congress to Pass Emergency Funding for Zika Virus

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today held a roundtable discussion with Illinois public health officials and medical experts to discuss the urgent need for Congress to pass the President’s $1.9 billion emergency funding request to help treat and prevent the spread of the Zika virus. In the absence of Congressional action, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun diverting funding and resources away from Illinois and other states to support Southern states where the Zika threat is higher.  The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health will lose a total of $2 million in Public Health Emergency Preparedness grants as a result.

“Taking money from one state to give it to another to deal with a public health threat is no way to govern, especially when the President submitted a supplemental request to combat the Zika virus nearly three months ago. We should pass a Zika supplemental so Illinois and other states can keep the funding they need to deal with current public health threats – like Elizabethkingia – while receiving additional funding to help prepare for the summer months and the Zika threat,” Durbin said. “While Chicago is further north and at a lower risk for the spread of the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, we are not at zero risk and we are a major transportation hub. There is still a lot we do not know about this disease and we must be diligent. The cases of Zika are continuing to grow and inaction and further delay put pregnant women and children in jeopardy.”

"Zika virus can cause serious disease, more than we anticipated," said Dr. Sharon Welbel, Director of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control, CCHHS. "Local funding is critical for a number of reasons; we must educate individuals in our communities about how to avoid infection, educate clinicians about how to identify and manage the disease in their patients and how to report to local authorities. Counseling for pregnant women will be monumental. In order to do this we need money for state health department laboratories and diagnostic testing, as well as tools for monitoring and reporting the disease efficiently." 


Multi-year funding is needed now for the CDC and state/local health departments across the nation to prepare and respond before the summer mosquito season arrives, and to better understand the threat, educate providers and communities, conduct vector control, and develop a vaccine.


In the time since the President asked Congress for funding to help prepare for and combat the Zika virus, more than 1,000 Americans in 42 states have contracted the virus, including more than 90 pregnant women. In Illinois, 13 people have contracted the virus, including at least two pregnant women. Since then, the CDC confirmed that Zika during pregnancy can causes severe birth defects like microcephaly and that the virus can be sexually transmitted.


Earlier this month, Durbin led a coalition of 42 Senators in sending a new letter to Senate Republican leaders calling for immediate passage of President Obama’s emergency supplemental funding for Zika. The letter called on the Senate Appropriations committee to mark-up the President’s emergency funding request as soon as possible to ensure swift passage by the full Senate and House.


Last week, Durbin also joined Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in introducing legislation to fund the Administration’s $1.9 billion request to combat the Zika virus. The funding would be used to improve state vector control, surveillance, lab capacity and outbreak response, accelerate efforts to develop a vaccine, and expand education and access to women’s health planning services.