The March of Dimes is petitioning lawmakers to fund Zika prevention efforts, days after congressional efforts to fight the virus failed.
The organization, which works to end premature birth and birth defects, put a petition on its website Thursday to tell lawmakers that fighting Zika should be a bipartisan effort. Senate Democrats blocked a $1.1 million funding package as public health officials issued dire warnings from medical experts about Zika, which can cause devastating birth defects in babies whose mothers are infected. Officials have warned of an outbreak on the U.S. mainland; thousands of people have been infected in Puerto Rico. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and sexually.
"No pregnant women should have to worry that her baby will develop brain damage because she was bitten once by a mosquito," the petition reads. "It’s an outrage that Congress has failed to give states and localities the resources they need to protect pregnant women and babies from Zika virus."
Officials from the March of Dimes and nearly 40 other advocacy and health organizations sent a letter to lawmakers earlier this week urging Congress to pass a measure that would not place restrictions on Zika funding and that would allow the budget to be expanded in subsequent years.
Officials say that time is of the essence to fight the virus. The clash Tuesday raised serious doubts about whether Congress would fund measures to fight the disease before they go on recess next month. Even if Congress were to fight efforts, experts said, the money allocated for mosquito control wouldn't get to municipalities until at least September. Peak mosquito season for most of the country lasts from June to October.
The March of Dimes each year appoints a child who was born this year to be its national ambassador -- and this year the child is from Puerto Rico. Ismael Torres-Castrodad and his mother, Ismari Castrodad, visited the White House Thursday and spoke to President Obama about the virus. Castrodad said Obama told them he is working on lobbying efforts and making phone calls to try to get money to fight the virus.
"He said he will make some calls to get help and he will be sure to put his efforts to help fighting Zika," Castrodad said.
Kelly Cook, the chief marketing officer at KMart, which is giving March of Dimes $250,000 to fund Zika efforts, attended the meeting and said Obama was concerned about the lack of information available about the virus and that more research needs to be done to learn more about it.
Ismael, who is 13, told Obama he wants to be president one day. He said he knows a number of people who have Zika, though the family doesn't know of any pregnant women who have contracted it.
"People know it’s there but they don’t know what to do," he said.