State's health chief talks budget cuts, Zika dollars - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

State's health chief talks budget cuts, Zika dollars

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Louisiana’s health chief says the pain would be widespread if a state operating budget passed by the Republican-controlled state House becomes law.

"They say - and I love this talking point - we're just going to appropriate you three-quarters of a billion less, but you can still provide the same services, you just decide what to do,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health during an extensive interview with FOX 8 News.

The amount of the cuts rises to nearly 1$ billion when the loss of federal matching funds is factored in, and Dr. Gee said people will suffer.

"When you cut out three-quarters of a billion dollars, you're now cutting programs that are life-saving programs to people,” she said.

With the rainfall and humidity in Louisiana, conditions are ripe for mosquito-borne diseases.

But Gee said the cuts her department would have to shoulder would hurt the state’s efforts at defending against a major outbreak.

"So Zika virus is something that has a huge chance of impacting Louisiana because of our climate, because these mosquitoes live here, and if we were to have an outbreak here we have in Medicaid alone half a million people who would need the vaccine."

Gee said absorbing a funding reduction of that magnitude would wipe out state dollars for the Zika fight.

"We then have to not just cut into muscle we're cutting into bone, so I'm having to go into my office of public health which funds the Zika response, and we're cutting the almost $2 million which was the only funding the state was able to put in for Zika. That goes away with the House budget,” she said.

"I think we're going to have as many as we did last year or maybe more. I mean, look at City Park Avenue. It's filled with water and I'm right across from the bayou which also breeds mosquitoes,” said New Orleans resident Callie Dean.

She wants the state to have adequate Zika-fighting resources.

"Absolutely, if there's Zika here we need to combat it…but we also need to tell the public that that's a possibility so that they will not have any standing water in their yards,” said Dean.

And as it relates to the Zika virus, Dr. Gee is very concerned about what a Zika vaccine could end up costing the state.

"The Army is considering giving exclusive rights to a company and no protections at all for price, so in other words the company could decide what price, and if, for example, they wanted to price it at a thousand dollars a dose - which is not inconceivable - that would be a half-billion dollar hit to our state. And what really makes me mad is that the U.S. paid for the development of this vaccine. We developed it at the NIH, we developed it at the Army. We paid for the clinical trial, so why shouldn't we get the benefit? Why should we have to pay whatever price that drug company wants to charge us with no protections whatsoever for the people of this nation and of this state?” Gee said.

In New Orleans, Press Secretary Erin Burns issued a statement:

"The City of New Orleans will continue to prioritize funding to address the serious public health threat posed by the Zika virus. Both our Health Department and Mosquito and Termite Control Board are continuing with implementation of the robust preparedness plan in 2017 as well as increased mosquito surveillance and mosquito control efforts. Comprehensive educational outreach has already begun throughout the city."

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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