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Home > Politics > Booker, Menendez Convene Zika Virus Preparedness Summit At HUMC
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By Paul Nichols
Friday, Apr 29, 2016

Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez led a statewide summit with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials, Acting State Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett, and local medical professionals to discuss New Jersey’s preparedness for preventing the spread of the Zika virus.  New Jersey currently has nine confirmed cases of Zika out of more than 380 nationwide — all related to travel originating overseas.
“Today’s summit comes at an important time: we know that the risk of a Zika outbreak in the United States this summer is increasing with each passing day. Pregnant women face a particular threat, which is why it is so important that we take immediate action to protect against this disease,” said Sen. Booker.  "In addition to federal efforts, we must make sure that we provide decision-makers at the local and state levels with the resources they need to do their jobs, and I will continue to fight to make sure they have the support necessary to protect New Jerseyans. The cost of prevention is far, far less than the human and financial costs if we allow Zika to threaten public health, which is why Congress must not allow partisan politics to get in the way of supporting the President’s emergency funding request.”
“It doesn’t hurt to be prepared as we get towards the height of the summer when mosquitoes are more abundant and when many of us tend to travel on vacations, both domestically and abroad,” said Sen. Menendez. “We need to ensure dedicated efforts are in place to raise public awareness, improve testing methods and mosquito control techniques, and support research into the progression and effects of Zika and the development of treatments and vaccines.  That is why we are here today—with the CDC and other experts who will be on the frontlines here at home—to ensure we’re all on the same page and working together to be knowledgeable and prepared. ”
"We are learning more about Zika and the impact it can have on pregnancy every day,” said Dr. Stephen Redd, director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.  “CDC is committed to working with state and local health officials, clinicians, and families to protect pregnant women from the devastating impact this virus can have.”
"Zika is a serious health threat, and the US Department of Health and Human Services is working to deploy all resources possible to keep pregnant women and all residents safe, both in Puerto Rico, and as the weather warms, here in the Tri-state area," said Jackie Cornell-Bechelli, US Dept. of Health and Human Services Regional Director.  "That's why we have asked Congress to provide $1.9 billion in emergency funding.  Congress has yet to act, but this funding is critical, and we cannot wait."
“The Department is closely monitoring the evolving Zika virus outbreak for travel-related cases as well as potential localized transmission,” said NJ Department of Health Acting Commissioner Cathleen Bennett.  “Our education and awareness efforts are focused on pregnant women, male partners of couples considering expanding their families, college students and foreign born residents traveling to impacted countries. Our laboratory is developing the capability to test residents who may have been exposed to Zika while traveling.” 
“Hackensack UMC has always remained a healthcare leader when it matters most for our communities,” said Ihor S. Sawczuk, M.D, president of Hackensack UMC. “With the emerging Zika virus epidemic, we are committed to keeping our healthcare team and community informed and involved on all of the latest developments, screening methods, and treatment protocols for this disease. We were proud to host this important conference that brought together elected and healthcare leaders with physicians to share knowledge and discuss the pertinent issues affecting New Jersey.” 
In February, President Obama submitted a request to Congress for more than $1.8 billion in supplemental funding to respond to the Zika threat.  Bipartisan negotiators from the Senate Appropriations Committee have been working on a $1.1 billion package to fund part of the President’s request, but Republican leadership failed to bring it to the Senate floor before the Senate broke yesterday for a weeklong recess.  Just last week, Booker and Menendez sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran calling for immediate funding of President Obama’s FY2016 emergency supplemental funding request to combat the Zika virus.
Earlier this year, Booker and Menendez joined 44 of their Senate Democratic colleagues in urging President Obama to implement an interagency response plan addressing the spread of the Zika virus both at home and abroad. The Obama Administration has already transferred nearly $600 million of Ebola funds for immediate efforts to control and respond to the spread of the Zika virus.
Recently, CDC has concluded that Zika causes microcephaly, a severe birth defect involving brain damage,  and other neurological and autoimmune conditions.
Participants in today’s summit include:
·         U.S. Senator Cory Booker
·         U.S. Senator Robert Menendez
·         Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.
·         Cathleen Bennett, Acting Commissioner, NJ Department of Health 
·         Ihor Sawczuk, President, Hackensack University Medical Center
·         Jackie Cornell-Bechelli, Regional Director, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
·         Lisa Tank, President of Medical Affairs, Hackensack University Medical Center
·         Steven Sperber, Chief, Adult Infectious Disease, Hackensack University Medical Center
·         Julie Piwoz, Chief, Pediatric Infectious Disease, Hackensack University Medical Center
·         Manuel Alvarez, Chair, Dept. of OB/GYN, Hackensack University Medical Center
·         Paulette Nelson, Assistant Director, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife
·         Aline Holmes, Senior Vice President, NJ Hospital Association

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