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Dear Washington: The Time to Prepare for Zika Has Come and Gone

Author: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health
August 1, 2016
Foreign Policy

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Dear presidential candidates, senators, and congressional representatives:

Get your butts back to Washington immediately.

The time you’ve had to get a preparedness plan in order but have wasted twiddling thumbs and shifting around budgets to make it look like you were taking the threat of Zika seriously is over. So, go behind closed doors to negotiate if the glare of the media and prying eyes of your constituencies is uncomfortable — I don’t care. But know this: The goal is to prevent a major pandemic from sweeping the nation, the births of thousands of Zika-deformed and neurologically impaired babies, to forestall adult cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, eye problems, and other rare disorders caused by Zika infection, as well as to prevent the devastation of other public health and safety programs in cities, counties, and states across America as they shift resources from one account to another.

If I were the referee for your negotiations — which ought to commence this week in light of Florida’s local mosquito-carried Zika cases — the allowable focus for partisan debate between the houses of Congress and the White House would be extremely narrow. I would rule everything from the future of Planned Parenthood to pesticide regulations, shiftingmoney from Ebola responses and existing federal and state accounts, the budget deficit, national debt — all off the table. The one, and only, topic open for debate? How much new money must be allocated on an emergency basis to meet the needs of the nation’s scientists, public health leaders, hospitals, maternal health providers, and mosquito and environmental health experts in order to limit the number of Americans who fall ill to Zika, pass the virus sexually to their partners or in utero to their fetuses, miscarry, or are born with neurological deficits and deformations.

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