Puerto Rico has been hit harder by the Zika outbreak than anywhere else in the U.S., as some 570 people have been diagnosed with the virus, including 48 pregnant women. (The actual number of cases is believed to be much higher, as most people don’t develop symptoms and are usually unaware they have been infected.) On Friday, the first death of a U.S. victim related to the virus was reported. The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell said she had awarded $5 million to 20 health centers in Puerto Rico on her return from a two-day visit, as it faces an economic crisis and is badly equipped to deal with the Zika outbreak and the birth defects it causes. The money is intended to expand family planning services, including contraception, outreach and education.
In February, President Obama had asked Congress to free up some $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funds, but this effort was blocked by Republicans in Congress who called it a “blank check.” Even though the president was able to transfer $510 million in money that had previously been earmarked for the fight against Ebola, Burwell says extra funds are necessary to help control the spread of mosquitos, the development of a vaccine and pregnancy care.
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