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Ex-Ebola czar: "Zika is not 'coming' to the United States: It is already here"

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

As mosquito season arrives and the Zika virus threatens the United States, Congress has been slow to provide the funding President Obama requested to fight the disease. Ronald Klain, who managed the response to Ebola in 2014, argues in the Washington Post that this is a mistake with foreseeable, tragic consequences:

Zika is not "coming" to the United States: It is already here. Hundreds of people who caught the disease abroad are in the country; more than 250 cases of pregnant women in the United States and its territories with Zika have been logged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is not a question of whether babies will be born in the United States with Zika-related microcephaly — it is a question of when and how many. For years to come, these children will be a visible, human reminder of the cost of absurd wrangling in Washington, of preventable suffering, of a failure of our political system to respond to the threat that infectious diseases pose.

Klain's bigger point is that the US needs to be better prepared for infectious disease emergencies, including creating a public health emergency fund that the president can draw from to provide help right away. This kind of fund is already in place for natural disasters, but an epidemic disease doesn't qualify.

"Slowness in getting the response to Ebola moving had devastating consequences in West Africa and led to panic and confusion here in the United States," Klain writes. "Now, congressional delays on Zika funding risk a human cost of unknown dimensions."

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