(Archivo / AP)

If Republicans in Congress do not approve the request for $1.9 billion issued by President Barack Obama six months ago to combat the Zika virus, they could be partly responsible for the havoc this disease will wreak on the next generation. 

Under this precept, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson—who is a candidate for the Senate—and his wife, Dr. Dena Grayson—who is also aspiring for Congress in representation of Central Florida—explained yesterday the importance of taking drastic measures to try to mitigate the effects of a disease that, according to their forecasts, will remain in the environment at least until the next century. 

“Boys and girls will be born with brain damage, needing permanent care from the government, as well as from their families. It’s a major tragedy,” said the Florida Congressman. 

Given the inaction from Congress regarding the request for $1.9 billion, Obama announced in April that he would assign $589 million to be distributed administratively among various initiatives against the virus. This money had been previously assigned by Congress to fight the Ebola virus. 

From the other $1.9 billion, about $250 million (approximately 12%) are being requested for Puerto Rico. 

This money has been designated for prevention plans, mosquito mitigation programs, and research on a possible Zika vaccine, among other measures that seek to eliminate or control the effects of this disease. “The number of people at risk is increasing exponentially. It is very alarming,” Dr. Grayson said.

She also noted that investigating and approving a Zika vaccine could take one to two years, and emphasized the importance of appropriating funds for those purposes.

“The clock is ticking. How many more babies have to be at risk (of health complications)?” questioned the doctor, who warned that there are approximately 500 infected pregnant women in the US, a number that will continue to rise. 

For his part, the congressman objected to the fact that more money is being invested in the US military than in efforts to eradicate this disease. 

“The government is responsible for public health policies, such as keeping the water clean, collecting the garbage, and other basic measures to prevent diseases,” stressed the lawyer, who is also a public policy expert. 

Both Democrats recognized that while Florida has already identified the first cases of local virus transmission, and other places in the US have had cases of infected travelers returning from areas with active virus transmission, it is Puerto Rico that has the highest number of Zika infection cases in the US. 

Considering that 80% of the cases do not develop any symptoms, Dr. Grayson warned that by the end of this year, 25% (850,000 people) could become infected with the virus.

Regarding the people’s reprehensible indifference to the consequences of this disease (precisely because the vast majority is not even aware they have it,) both of them expressed the need to reinforce educational efforts and secure additional funds to deal with this.

“Yes, there is a lot of public attention (on Zika). What we need now is more education on how to prevent it,” said the Congressman. 

Both expressed the need for people to understand that the Zika virus is not only transmitted through mosquito (Aedes aegypti) bites. It has also been confirmed that it can be a sexually transmitted disease. 

“The number of cases will increase dramatically,” he claimed. 

On the other hand, the couple said they support the use of the insecticide Naled for mosquito control, but expressed their skepticism about the practice of creating genetically modified insects. 

The Congressman, who acknowledged the topic is controversial, commented that genetically altering mosquitoes could result in even more dangerous species.

He mentioned that this type of project could produce more aggressive mosquitoes that could travel longer distances and bite differently, or transmit the Zika virus more easily. 

For these and other reasons, he also noted the fact that this type of experimental project needs to undergo further evaluation before making a final decision. He also added that, in Brazil, this project proved to be unsuccessful as a permanent solution. 

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