The mosquito-borne Zika virus, a major threat to public health, has spread to the continental U.S. It is important that our government acts quickly to combat the disease, as it is linked to numerous clinical mannifestations, specifically microcephaly (resulting in a smaller-than-average head and potential developmental delays), but also retinal damage, seizures, joint problems and difficulty swallowing. This is significant for multiple reasons. It is important that our government makes an attempt to fight the disease itself and prevent as many people as possible from acquiring it. Taking into account the fact that some mothers with the Zika virus will give birth to babies with disabilities, it is essential that these women and their families are well-educated about the supports required by and available to their children. It should be made clear that these babies have as much potential as any other child and will be able to flourish with the right resources and supports.
A bill that would fund Zika-fighting efforts, H.R. 2577, was voted down in the Senate on September 6, 2016. This was due in large part to a disagreement over a rider added by Senate Republicans, which would have denied the Puerto Rican branch of Planned Parenthood from receiving any funding (“Senate Democrats Block Zika Bill Over Planned Parenthood Provisions“, The New York Times, September 6, 2016). This provision is problematic because the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually.
Because the funding of Planned Parenthood is a partisan issue that is often subject to debate in Congress, TASH believes that the rider has no place in a bill with so much impact on public health. The White House has been providing us with updates regarding relevant news and information. In addition, leaders from TASH, The Arc of the United States, United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD), Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD), National Council on Disability (NCD), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), Easter Seals, Women’s Health Initiative, Women Enabled, and other organizations recently met to talk over the situation and coordinate efforts toward a solution. A major issue discussed was the importance of citizens putting pressure on their representatives to pass an acceptable version of the funding bill. Some progress has been made already, as a clean bill was introduced in the House several days after the September 6th vote. TASH urges its members to call or write their representatives regarding Zika virus relief funding and express their concern and wish for its timely implementation. Not sure who your representative is? Find out using Congress’s Find Your Representative tool. Together, we can make sure that this crucial funding is not delayed by partisan politics.