- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The World Health Organization on Wednesday told Europe to gird for the Zika virus, underscoring the potential reach of the mosquito-borne disease as U.S. lawmakers debate how much money is needed to beat back a potential outbreak here.

Portugal’s Madeira islands and stretches of Russia and Georgia on the Black Sea are home to the primary mosquito that carries Zika, and therefore face the highest risk, according to the global health arm of the U.N.

Eighteen countries are at “moderate” risk because they host a second, though less threatening, breed of mosquito that can ferry the virus. France, Italy and Malta face the most danger in this group.

The rest of the WHO’s European member states — 36 countries — have a low risk of transmission, because their climates aren’t hospitable to the disease-carrying insects.

“We call particularly on countries at higher risk to strengthen their national capacities and prioritize the activities that will prevent a large Zika outbreak,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s regional director for Europe.

The call to action comes as Congress takes up funding measures to thwart outbreaks on the U.S. mainland.

SEE ALSO: Marco Rubio pleads with GOP to fund full Zika request, backfill money later

House GOP leaders brushed aside President Obama’s veto threat and scheduled a vote this week on a $622 million bill that siphons hundreds of millions of dollars from the Ebola fight in West Africa and other programs toward the Zika fight.

Democrats and at least one House Republican on Wednesday said the GOP plan shortchanges states on the front lines of a potential outbreak. They said the government should borrow $1.9 billion to fully satisfy Mr. Obama’s request, saying there is neither the time nor enough waste to find the money elsewhere in the country’s $4 trillion budget.

“The lives of thousands of infants are potentially at risk. There’s no excuse for failure to act responsibly and swiftly,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, Florida Republican, who wants to fully fund Mr. Obama’s request.

Zika virus festered for decades in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region before globe-hopping to Latin America, where it is causing babies to be born with abnormally small heads.

The WHO said European travelers returning from places where Zika is circulating could set off local transmission in late spring or summer, when mosquitoes will start biting.

As of mid-April, the agency had counted 409 travel-related cases of Zika in 17 European countries, including 23 cases in pregnant women.

The WHO said it will convene in Portugal in late June to evaluate its members’ progress in preparing for Zika.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control has recorded 500 travel-related cases in the states and D.C., including a handful through sexual transmission, and scientists say the virus could puncture the mainland further once temperatures climb.

Mr. Obama has said he will reject the House’s bill because it funds only a third of his own request and taps more Ebola funding, instead of backfilling the $510 million he already took from that fight to prepare for the latest health scare.

The Senate is pushing a $1.1 billion package that is more generous than the House plan, yet far short of the $1.9 billion that Mr. Obama requested in February.

House lawmakers paid for their plan instead of tacking the spending onto the deficit, but the Senate’s plan isn’t offset with cuts elsewhere, setting up a clash over how to proceed.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama will continue to advocate for a full $1.9 billion.

“The only thing that Republicans in the House have come forward with is funding at like a third of the level that our public health experts recommend, but taking every single penny of that money away from efforts to protect the American people from Ebola,” he said. “So, that doesn’t make sense at all. That is a dumb approach.”

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