Editorials

Texas must find ways to fund Zika mitigation

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

More than 145 public health experts signed an open letter to the World Health Organization on Friday, May 27, 2016 asking the U.N. health agency to consider whether the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the ongoing Zika outbreak. The letter calls for the games to be delayed or relocated in the name of public health.
More than 145 public health experts signed an open letter to the World Health Organization on Friday, May 27, 2016 asking the U.N. health agency to consider whether the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the ongoing Zika outbreak. The letter calls for the games to be delayed or relocated in the name of public health. AP

The sun is out this week in North Texas, and much of the state is drying out from rains and flooding that have devastated parts of the region over the past month.

The immediate danger has subsided, but a new concern is emerging as a result of the wet spring and the many pools of standing water it left behind — Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito identified as posing the greatest risk for transmitting the Zika virus.

While the illness itself presents with mild symptoms — people often don’t realize they have it — a pregnant woman can pass the virus to her unborn child. The virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and serious developmental problems.

The disease can be spread through sexual contact, but the primary means of transmitting it is through the bite of a mosquito, a nearly unavoidable experience during a Texas summer.

The Department of State Health Services is engaged in a $2 million campaign to raise public awareness of how people can reduce their chances of contraction and transmission, and the state does have a plan to coordinate the state’s response to the disease.

What the state doesn’t seem to have is enough money allocated to prevent thousands of people, including the poor and other vulnerable populations, from contracting the illness, with women of reproductive age at particular risk.

Some public health officials believe the state should be eradicating mosquitoes and distributing insect repellents.

Lawmakers seem to agree, but they want the federal government to foot the bill.

On Monday, top Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sens. Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, asked the state’s congressional delegation and the Obama administration to help “mitigate this devastating public health threat” by sending funds posthaste.

Congress is expected to pass a Zika bill this week, but such legislation has been stalled in Congress for months, so we’re not holding our breath.

Texas needs its own plan and its own way to pay for it.

Last week the federal government said states could use Medicaid funds to pay for insect repellents and certain family planning services, but Texas officials are still reviewing that proposal and have yet to release the funds.

The state should quickly and seriously consider this option and immediately seek other ways — including other funding sources — to combat the threat.

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