Latino Lawmaker Warns Puerto Rico Budget Cuts Could Hurt Zika Prevention

Image: Center for Disease Prevention expert says that quick action is required to prevent pregnant women from becoming infected with the zika virus
epa05278988 A view through a microscope shows the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus Zika, at a laboratory at the National Institute of Health in Bogota, Colombia, 26 April 2016. Lowering the risks of Zika in pregnant women requires 'fast' measures because humanity has 'never before' faced a mosquito-borne disease with birth defects, said Honein, an expert from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. EPA/LEONARDO MUNOZLEONARDO MUNOZ / EPA

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Forcing Puerto Rico to make more budget cuts will leave the island's residents more vulnerable to the Zika virus and hurt attempts to curb its spread in the mainland U.S., a report released by the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee states.

The report released by the committee’s staff Wednesday states that Puerto Rico’s Department of Health has endured $135 million in cuts over the past five years as part of the U.S. territory’s austerity measures.

In addition, doctors are fleeing the island, which the committee blamed on underfunding of Medicaid, the federal/territory funded insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

This is happening as estimates are that health care costs for a year of new cases of microcephaly, a developmental condition that is striking babies whose mothers are infected with the Zika virus, will be more than $2 billion.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, but can be sexually transmitted and passed from mother to children.

“We have heard from opponents ... that the real solution to restructure some of Puerto Rico’s debt is for the commonwealth to just cut spending more deeply,” said Grijalva, D-Ariz. Such cuts would be irresponsible and dangerous, he said.

Related: Clinton Adviser Amanda Renteria Looks at Zika Prevention in Puerto Rico

The House has been grappling with legislation to assist Puerto Rico with its $72 billion debt. An initial draft released earlier was pulled back just before it was to be voted on because of extensive opposition.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said revised legislation was being finalized by the committee, following negotiations with the Treasury Department, Reuters reported Tuesday. Congress returns from recess next week.

The report particularly raises concerns that Puerto Rico’s rainy season began in April and continues through November, a period of ideal conditions for mosquitos and mosquito breeding.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates one in every four Puerto Ricans will be infected with Zika within the year, if it is uncontrolled. Failure to control it also could drive the spread of the virus to the mainland U.S., the report said.

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