Zika Response Pinches Health Department Budgets : Shots - Health News The extended debate in Congress over emergency funding for a response to the Zika virus is forcing public health departments to cut existing prevention and treatment programs.
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Health Departments Cut Programs While Awaiting Zika Funding

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Health Departments Cut Programs While Awaiting Zika Funding

Health Departments Cut Programs While Awaiting Zika Funding

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As Congress continues to debate funding to combat Zika, local and state health departments across the country are making tough choices. Some of the federal money that these departments rely on is being diverted to fight the disease. As NPR's Alison Kodjak reports, some departments will have to cut jobs and programs as a result.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: New York City's health department just lost 1.1 million dollars to prepare for emergencies. That's because the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention diverted the money to combat the Zika virus instead. Marisa Raphael, the department's deputy commissioner, says she expects to have to cut jobs.

MARISA RAPHAEL: We depend on this grant to create an infrastructure for our preparedness and our response, so that's everything from our lab staff to our surveillance staff. So when we had this cut, that does immediately impact our capabilities.

KODJAK: New York isn't unique. A new survey of state and local health departments shows that many are struggling with the reduced funding. About a third of state health departments say they expect to lay people off, and the same number say they'll likely eliminate training programs. And what are the kinds of things these departments normally do?

THOMAS INGLESBY: A new measles outbreak - that's the job of a health department to discover and to control. Or a new mumps outbreak on a college campus or a meningitis outbreak - that's the day-in, day-out work of public health.

KODJAK: Thomas Inglesby, the CEO at the Center for Health Safety at the University of Pittsburgh. He says most public health departments don't have excess people or resources that can be cut.

INGLESBY: If you take funding from local health department preparedness, that means people are fired or laboratories can't run the same way or disease surveillance has to stop.

KODJAK: He says Congress should allocate emergency money for Zika and then add more to the regular budget because once the disease hits, it's not going away.

INGLESBY: Zika is the new normal. Zika is something we're going to have to deal with not just this summer, but next summer and the summer after that.

KODJAK: And since Zika's just the latest in a string of infectious disease threats, many public health experts want to create a standing fund for public health emergencies. Melinda Moore is one of those advocates.

MELINDA MOORE: The whole idea is to have funding available urgently when it's needed urgently.

KODJAK: She's a public health expert at the Rand Corporation. She says the fund could function like the one at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

MOORE: That's available as soon as it's needed - right on the heels of a hurricane, of a tornado, et cetera. Some of these disease outbreaks - and Zika's a good example - is nearly as urgent as that.

KODJAK: But until Congress embraces that concept, there's likely to be a debate like this one for each new outbreak. Alison Kodjak, NPR News, Washington.

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