By Reuters Staff
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it will redirect $589 million in funds to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus because lawmakers have not approved its emergency funding request.
But White House budget director Shaun Donovan said the move was only a temporary fix for Zika funding, adding that some measures would have to be delayed, curtailed or stopped unless the U.S. Congress approves an emergency funding request for more than $1.8 billion, made earlier this year.
The virus, linked to numerous cases of the birth defect microcephaly in Brazil, is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean and heading north as the weather gets warmer.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said that without the requested emergency funding, opposed by some key congressional Republicans, the United States risks its ability to respond to the Zika virus.
Burwell said mosquito control and surveillance may have to be delayed or stopped, vaccine development could be jeopardized and development of faster diagnostic tests could be impaired.
"We should not play with fire here," Donovan told reporters on a conference call.
The Republican-controlled Congress has said the White House should draw the money it needs to fight Zika from $2.7 billion in funds set aside for public health projects aimed at the Ebola virus.
Burwell said the White House still needs the full emergency funding and cannot risk short-changing efforts to help West African countries fight Ebola.
"We face two global health challenges, Ebola and Zika, and we don't have an option to set one aside in the name of the other," Burwell told reporters.
Burwell said there were already 672 confirmed cases of Zika infections in the continental United States and U.S. territories, including 64 pregnant women. She said there was one confirmed case of Zika-related microcephaly in Hawaii.