Celia Hagan, APHL; Ewa King, PhD, APHL’s Environmental Health Committee chair and APHL Board member; Jennifer Rakeman-Cagano, PhD, APHL’s Infectious Disease Committee chair; APHL Board member Joanne Bartkus PhD, D(ABMM); and Peter Kyriacopoulos, APHL, in front of the Dirksen Senate Ofﬁce Building
APHL’s Public Policy department has been active on Capitol Hill this spring as the summer months and mosquito season approach. As state and local public health laboratories face increasing pressure to provide testing for Zika with limited staff and funds, and the anticipation that the demand for testing will only increase when local transmission occurs in the US this summer, Congressional action to pass emergency supplemental appropriations to support the Zika response has become critical.
The White House $1.9 billion request to fight Zika domestically and internationally has been stalled in Congress over the past several months as congressional leadership vacillates on the urgency of the need. While mosquito season has yet to start in the US, it is imperative to approve supplemental funding now, to enhance the public health laboratory response prior to the onset of summer.
As part of a coalition of public health and maternal/child organizations, APHL has been an active leader in urging Congress to appropriate emergency funds and is in regular communication with the White House on the laboratory portion of the Zika response. The Public Policy department has made, and continues to make, visits to key offices in states and jurisdictions that are at high risk for local transmission of Zika. It has emphasized that redirection of funds—either from the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Cooperative Agreement or from US obligations to countries fighting Ebola—is not a sustainable solution.
In fact, the redirection of PHEP funds has already had immediate, adverse impacts on public health laboratories, limiting funding streams for staff positions and basic laboratory supplies putting them in a difficult situation as the volume of Zika testing increases.
Additionally, during APHL’s annual Hill Day, a day of action where members advocate for public health laboratories on Capitol Hill, APHL members described the impact of Zika response on their day-to-day operations, noting the large volume of testing already underway. New York City has tested close to 2,000 specimens since January, and Minnesota close to 600. Neither state has the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most competent vector for spreading Zika, yet the volume of testing is enormous due to travelers returning from Zika-infected areas.
As the temperatures rise and the risk of local transmission of Zika increases, APHL will continue to advocate on behalf of public health laboratories as part of a strong, coordinated and prepared public health system.