The Zika fight in the United States is finally about to be funded. On Wednesday, Congress approved a $1.1 billion deal, which is now waiting on President Barack Obama’s signature. The amount is less than the $1.9 billion the president originally asked for in February, but much more than the zero federal dollars the government’s been working with in the seven months since then.
“Did that delay cause harm? Did that set you back?” Jonathan Karl, ABC News’s chief White House correspondent, asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, on Thursday at the Washington Ideas Forum, an event produced by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
“In a number of things, it did,” Burwell said. “We had to make decisions that were not what I would like. The first was to take money from Ebola. The second thing we had to do—and I had to do this in August, because we expected [the funding bill] would be passed before, and it wasn’t—I had to take money from the rest of the department. I had to take money from things like cancer research in order to keep the efforts going.”
In the 233 days since President Obama first requested funding, a lot has happened. Zika was determined to definitively cause the birth defect microcephaly and the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré. Scientists learned the mosquito-borne virus can also be spread sexually a few days before the funding request, but it has since been determined that it can be spread by women as well as men, and that it can survive in semen for weeks or possibly months.