As mosquito season escalates in many states, physicians and others are sounding the alarm that the United States needs to act quickly to control the Zika virus, particularly when it comes to pregnant women for whom the virus could mean devastating consequences for their unborn babies.
The need for immediate action
On the heels of a letter in late May that urged Congress to make sufficient funding available to combat the virus, delegates at the 2016 AMA Annual Meeting called on lawmakers to act immediately in the best interest of public health.
“Without sufficient funding for research, prevention, control and treatment of illnesses associated with the Zika virus, the United States will be ill-equipped to deploy the kind of public health response needed to keep our citizens safe and healthy,” incoming AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, MD, said.
Among the confirmed birth defects associated with the virus are microcephaly and other congenital brain abnormalities.
New policy also directs the AMA to work with experts in all relevant disciplines to help develop needed strategies to limit the spread and impact of the virus.
Putting safeguards in place
Delegates also adopted policy that aims to get in front of public health threats before they become crises. The new policy encourages the reauthorization and appropriation of sufficient funds to a public health emergency fund within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to facilitate adequate responses to public health emergencies without redistributing funds from established public health accounts.
“A dedicated, fully-funded public health emergency fund would allow the federal government to quickly direct funding for public health emergencies without having to await congressional action,” Dr. Gurman said. “Public health crises can happen at any time, and whether we address pressing needs should not depend on the congressional calendar.”
Physicians also emphasized that public officials and others should follow guidance of health care experts when it comes to the treatment of individuals who have contracted the virus. The AMA’s new policy officially opposes quarantine measures for Zika-infected patients since scientific evidence shows that quarantine is not an appropriate public health response to address the virus.