“Hold up. Wait, wait, wait a minute.”

That was my response when Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told me that the ongoing congressional battle over Zika funding forced the federal government to take money from other diseases to finance the hunt for a vaccine. “First, we took money from other infections. We borrowed money from ourselves from malaria and TB,” Fauci told me in the sixth episode of “Cape Up.”

“When we ran out of that money, we started tapping into the Ebola funds that we really should not be tapping into because we still need them to keep the lid on Ebola,” Fauci continued. “When we ran out of that, [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Sylvia Mathews] Burwell had to do something she really did not want to do. She had to take money using her transfer authority from cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental health and give it to us to be able to continue to prepare the sites for the [Zika] vaccine trials that we will be performing.”


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President Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion to address the Zika crisis back in February. But as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told me in last week’s episode, renewed fights in Congress over Planned Parenthood have tripped up Zika funding bills. Fauci said that if the battles aren’t resolved by the start of the new fiscal year (Oct. 1), “We’re going to have to stop what we’re doing.” The consequences of such an action are huge.

During the 2013 government shutdown, experimentation on a host of maladies and diseases stopped. “We lost, temporally, several weeks. But you compound that because, if you start an experiment and you can’t finish it, you gotta start all over again,” Fauci said. “So even though you may be out of action for two or three weeks, you can really lose three or four months.”

We got into the 69-year history of the disease, how conditions in Brazil provided “the perfect storm for Zika” when it flourished there in 2015 and what folks in the United States should do to protect themselves. And you can’t have a conversation with Fauci without talking about his work on HIV/AIDS. He is world-renowned for his research, which earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2008. Fauci is bullish on the possibility of an AIDS-free generation and the role that pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, will play in it.

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“If we really put our foot on the accelerator on that I do believe that within a reasonable period of time, we can have an AIDS-free generation,” Fauci said. “Not that you’re going to eradicate HIV/AIDS. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But we could end the pandemic as we know of it today.” There’s a lot of work to do on that front. Listen to the podcast to find out what Fauci thinks the level of HIV infections needs to be to make HIV/AIDS “much, much, much less of a public-health threat,” and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj