By: Rebecca A. Meseroll, Ph.D.
Zika research funding
Obama requests $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight Zika
President Obama issued a statement of intent to request $1.8 billion from Congress to develop resources to combat the spread of Zika virus both internationally and domestically. Zika, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, has spread rapidly around Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands in the past year, and is an emerging public health threat, especially due to its possible link with congenital microcephaly, a severe birth defect, in children born to women infected with the virus during their pregnancy. The funds requested by the president would be used for a variety of purposes in an aggressive effort to contain the spread of the virus, including mosquito control, research on the virus and a potential vaccine against it, public education campaigns, and support personnel and equipment for areas where the outbreak is ongoing. Congress will have to decide whether to grant the funds, which would be part of the 2017 budget, later this year. While there is much to be done to minimize the impact of Zika, health officials indicate there is no cause for alarm about large-scale spread of the virus in the United States at present, but women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant are advised to use caution when planning travel to countries affected by Zika. (Jon Cohen, ScienceInsider and Mark Landler, The New York Times)
Climate change policy
Supreme Court stays climate change regulations
The Clean Power Plan, developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at President Obama’s behest last year, sought to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32% compared to 2005 levels. The EPA’s rules would require states to create their own plans, due to the agency by September of this year, detailing how they would reduce emissions beginning in 2022. This week, however, the US Supreme Court granted a request put forth by many states and power companies to put the regulations on hold on the grounds that they are outside of the purview of the EPA. Thus the regulations are set up to endure a lengthy legal battle, as the case will not come up in appeals court until June, after which it will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, who would not hear the case until 2017. Although the Supreme Court did not give its reasons for granting the stay, experts suggest that the Court may be telegraphing its wariness about the legality of the regulations by making this decision before the case has gone through a lower court. The Obama administration remains confident and environmentalists hopeful that the regulations will hold up in court, however it may be necessary in the future for Congress to pass climate change legislation before progress can actually be made. (Jeff Tollefson, Nature and Robert Barnes and Steven Mufson, The Washington Post)
HIV and organ transplantation
First HIV-positive organ transplants to occur in the United States
Years of advocacy led to the passage of the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act in 2013, which lifted a ban on research into organ donations between HIV-positive individuals, and now the life-saving promise of the law is about to come to fruition. Doctors at Johns Hopkins received permission from the United Network for Organ Sharing to perform the first kidney and liver transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients in the US, and they are prepared to conduct the procedures as soon as the first patients are ready. Johns Hopkins will be the first in the world to perform liver transplants between an HIV-positive donors and HIV-positive recipients, however doctors in South Africa have had success with kidney transplants of this kind since 2008. It has been estimated that organs from more than 500 potential HIV-positive deceased donors have gone unused each year because of previous prohibitions, thus this new source of HIV-positive donor organs for HIV-positive recipients is expected to improve wait-times for all patients hoping for an organ to become available. The current HIV-positive transplants will utilize only organs from deceased donors, as more research must be done to determine the outcomes of kidney donation for HIV-positive patients. (Daniel Victor, The New York Times and Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)
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