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Fury as US Zika fighting fund falls short

Jessica Hartogs, Special to
Ianka Mikaelle Barbosa, 18, poses for a photograph with Sophia, 18 days old, who is her second child and was born with microcephaly, at her house in Campina Grande, Brazil February 17, 2016.
Ricardo Moraes | Reuters

U.S. Democrats have slammed the House of Representatives for slashing the budget for research against the Zika virus, shortchanging President Barack Obama's original request of $1.9 billion.

Democrats have been pushing Republicans for months for more funding, and the Obama administration has already reprogrammed nearly $600 million that had been set aside to fight Ebola toward Zika, reported Reuters. However the Republican-led House of Representatives eventually approved a budget of some $1.1 billion.

"Once again, Republicans have put political games ahead of the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and their babies. This plan from Congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus and steals funding from other health priorities," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, in a statement on Wednesday.

"The fact that the Republican plan limits needed birth control services for women in the United States and Puerto Rico as we seek to stop the spread of a sexually transmitted disease is a clear indication they don't take seriously the threat from the Zika virus or their responsibility to protect Americans."

Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. Sexual transmission of Zika virus is also possible, scientists have found. Zika virus has been reported in 55 countries worldwide– 42 of those had never had any outbreaks previous to 2015.

The disease is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as it is linked to several severe birth defects transferred to the fetus -including microcephaly- a condition in which a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth.

Brazil, which only allows abortion in cases of rape, or when the mother's life is in danger or the baby will not survive, had over 1,000 confirmed cases of microcephaly by April, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Abortion requests have doubled there, as well as other countries in South America, said the BBC on Thursday, citing the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers from the medical journal analyzed thousands of requests received by Women on Web, an online service which delivers pills to end a pregnancy, in the five years before the Pan American Health Organization issued a Zika warning on 17 November.

It then used those numbers to determine how many abortion requests would have been expected on average between 17 November 2015 and 1 March 2016, and noted that Brazil would have expected 582 requests without the virus but actually received 1,210, an increase of 108 percent.

Similarly, Ecuador also saw an increase of 108 percent, while Venezuela saw an increase of 96 percent and Honduras an increase of 76 percent.

Meanwhile, health officials in the U.S. reported that as of June 9, three babies had been born with birth defects linked to Zika virus infections in the mothers during pregnancy, along with three cases of lost pregnancies linked to the virus.

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