Obama to ask Congress for $1.8 billion to combat Zika virus

$210 million to target U.S. outbreaks, $41 million for State Department

Health workers spray insecticide to combat the mosquitoes that transmit the Zika Virus in Brazil. LEO CORREA - AP
Health workers spray insecticide to combat the mosquitoes that transmit the Zika Virus in Brazil. LEO CORREA - AP

The Obama administration will ask Congress for $1.8 billion to respond to the Zika virus abroad and prepare for it at home, the administration said Monday.

"We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus," the administration said in a statement. Although the administration said it has not yet seen a case of Zika transmitted directly from within the continental United States, but it said that with the approach of spring and summer mosquito seasons, it wanted to be prepared to fight the disease.

The bulk of the money, $828 million, would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The request also includes $250 million for a one-year increase in Medicaid funds for financially burdened Puerto Rico, where there have already been direct cases of Zika. The administration would pump $200 million into accelerated vaccine and testing techniques for Zika through the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. And $210 million would go to a new fund to respond to new outbreaks if they appear in the United States.

The rest of the money would go to help other countries respond to the virus. It would include $335 million for US Agency for International Development and $41 million for the State Department to respond across South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The administration said the money overall would go to expanding mosquito control programs; accelerating vaccine research and diagnostic development; enabling the testing and procurement of vaccines and diagnostics; educating health care providers, pregnant women and their partners; improving epidemiology and expanding laboratory and diagnostic testing capacity; improving health services and supports for low-income pregnant women, and enhancing the ability of Zika-affected countries to better combat mosquitoes and control transmission.

The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency. Scientists, meanwhile, explore possible links between Zika and microcephaly, or a condition marked by abnormally small heads, among babies born to women exposed to the virus. Microcephaly can cause developmental disabilities.