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President Obama asks Congress for $1.8 billion to combat Zika virus

Republicans in the US Congress have been clamoring for Obama to take decisive action against the Zika virus. Now he has done that but it remains to be seen if Congress will give him the money he seeks.

President Barack Obama is calling on the US Congress to sign off on $1.8 billion (1.6 billion euros) in emergency funds to fight the Zika virus.

He said the money would be used to fight the virus in the US and abroad, as well as to fund research for a possible vaccine.

But he also urged calm, telling Americans there is no need to panic.

"The good news is this is not like Ebola, people don't die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don't even know that they have it," Obama told CBS News in an interview aired on Monday. "But there shouldn't be panic on this, this is not something where people are going to die from it. It is something we have to take seriously."

Some $200 million would go towards research and development of a possible vaccine, as well as developing diagnostic tests for the virus.

Another $335 million would be allocated to the US Agency for International Development to support mosquito-control, maternal health and other Zika-related public health efforts in affected countries in the Americas.

Obama would devote another $250 million to Puerto Rico, the US territory in the Caribbean that is facing a severe financial crisis. Puerto Rico is also an active transmission point for Zika in warmer territories.

Zika-microcephaly link uncertain

It is still unclear if the Zika virus actually causes microcephaly in new born babies. The condition is characterized by babies being born with abnormally small heads and the potential to suffer developmental problems.

But Brazil has seen a simultaneous spike in the Zika virus, including among pregnant women, and microcephaly – leading medical experts to suspect there is a cause and effect, but so far that remains unproven.

Members of the US Congress, republicans in particular, have been pressuring Obama to takes decisive action. Now he has done that, but it remains to be seen if this Congress, which has been loathe to grant the president almost every funding request he has sought, will act on his latest measure.

"As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental US, particularly in the southern United States," the White House said in a statement, defending the emergency aid request.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said human trials for a possible vaccine could begin as early as this summer.

He said research is already underway, but he cautioned that a widely used vaccine probably won't be available for several years.

Watch video 01:15

Zika bites Brazil economy

bik/bw (Reuters, dpa)

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