Obama calls for $1.8 billion to tackle Zika

KONFRONTASI - US President Barack Obama has called on the Congress to provide over $1.8 billion in emergency funds to respond to the Zika virus in the United States and abroad, officials say.

The mosquito-borne illness, for which there is no cure or vaccine, has prompted fears in the United States with the approach of spring and summer mosquito seasons.

Zika is not fatal, but has been linked to a significant increase in the number of Latin American children born with microcephaly - abnormally small heads and brains.

"We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus," the administration said in a statement on Monday.

According to the White House, new funding is needed for mosquito control programs, vaccine research as well as other "essential strategies" in order to fight against the virus and help "ongoing preparedness efforts."

Speaking to CBS on Monday, Obama said, "The good news is this is not like Ebola, people don't die of Zika -- a lot of people get it and don't even know that they have it."

"There appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant," noted the president. "We don't know exactly what the relations there are but there is enough correlation that we have to take this very seriously."

No major outbreak in US

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it is unlikely that a major outbreak will occur in the United States, but added, "We never assume the least. We always assume the worst."

He also said that it is not possible to have "a vaccine that's widely available for a few years, but we certainly can get the initial steps."

The Pan-American Health Organization says that 26 countries have so far confirmed cases with Brazil being the hardest hit in an area which spans 7,000 kilometers (4,400 miles) from Mexico to Paraguay.

Colombia has confirmed more than 22,600 cases of the Zika virus which has been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disease that can cause paralysis in humans.[ptv]