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As the Zika virus threat grows in Latin America, the United States is considering an aggressive response. On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would ask Congress to approve roughly $1.8 billion to fight Zika at home and abroad.

“We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus,” said the president in a statement released Monday.

President Santos with Ministry of Health officials
President Santos speaks with Ministry of Health officials on the country’s plan to tackle a growing Zika epidemic. (Presidencia de la República)

“Congressional action on the administration’s request will accelerate our ability to prevent, detect and respond to the Zika virus and bolster our ability to reduce the potential for future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Most of the money – $828 million – would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare resources in case of an eventual Zika outbreak in the mainland United States. The CDC would also be responsible for researching links between Zika, Guillain Barré syndrome and microcephaly.

Another $250 million would provide emergency resources for public health services provided through Medicaid in Puerto Rico, where cases of active Zika transmission have been reported.

The request also includes $200 million for vaccine research and development, and $335 million in foreign aid for countries with active Zika outbreaks, possibly including Colombia.

Over the weekend, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the county was monitoring more than 3,100 pregnant women with Zika. Researchers have observed a potential link between Zika infections during pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with smaller than normal heads.

Also, Colombia’s Health Ministry said last week that three people have died in Colombia from Zika-related cases of Guillain Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause temporary paralysis and, in rare cases, death.

Zika has already affected at least 25,000 Colombians, according to Santos.

President Santos asked the Obama administration for assistance in fighting the Zika epidemic during his visit to Washington last week. A delegation of health experts from the United States will visit Colombia this week to meet with national health officials and discuss the country’s Zika strategy.

“I believe we are doing everything within our reach at the moment,” said Santos on Saturday. “We will not hold back any effort in order to be successful.”


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