Raising Our Biodefenses Now: Early Alert System Needed to Prevent Spread of the Next Zika

.With the news from government officials that the Zika virus has now established itself in Florida and mosquitoes are transmitting it among people, we are reminded that yet another infectious disease is moving faster than our response to it. And our elected leaders in Washington left for the summer before finding common ground to deal with it. It is clear our thinking on biodefense must change.

Nearly six months have passed since the President requested $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funds. Before it recessed, Congress considered offering $1.1 billion in a bill so laden with poison pills that the President has threatened to veto it. This frustrating inability to reach an agreement has cost lives. More fundamentally, it reflects a reactionary mind-set.

We argue here for a simple yet paradigm-shifting biodefense approach grounded in prediction and prevention. Its fundamental tenet is this: Instead of arguing over cost offsets, instead of cities like New York having to pull money from other urgent public health needs, we can actually use the money we already invest each year in baseline budgets to reduce disease impacts and buffer the economic jolts they cause.

In 2003, the emergence of a previously unknown virus, SARS, cost the global economy $40 billion. Influenza continues to pose a perennial threat to people and animals alike: A huge avian flu outbreak among poultry in Indiana and other states racked up staggering costs amounting to a $5.5 billion hit — from a disease limited to poultry. We are already seeing similar financial shocks related to tourism and trade behavior with Zika’s arrival in the Americas.

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