Use funds wisely to fight disease

If $1 billion in new money makes a “moonshot” against cancer, as President Barack Obama has termed a plan for using that much to fight the disease, what will $1.8 billion buy? A mission to Mars?

Obama, ironically cautioning “there shouldn’t be a panic on this,” is asking Congress for $1.8 billion to combat the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that transmit the disease. Much of the money would go to countries in Latin America which have been hit hard by a Zika outbreak. Only a handful of cases have been reported in the United States.

Zika infections cause only mild problems for most people. But the disease can result in heartrending complications for pregnant women. Their babies can be born with abnormally small heads, a birth defect referred to as microcephaly.

Indeed, steps should be taken to safeguard people against Zika. But dozens of other exotic diseases also need attention. Many are killers. Several are far greater concerns than Zika in some parts of the world.

Clearly, Obama is bowing to the politically incorrect disease of the month, rather than taking a more scientific view. It would be that restricting that much money to battling one exotic disease, while many others are greater threats to human beings, is foolish.

If members of Congress want to provide another $1.8 billion for public health purposes, fine. But the funding should have a target broader than Zika. Let the scientists decide how to spend it most effectively to help the most people.

Throwing tons of money at a disease just because it is in today’s headlines means that tomorrow, some other virus could be making even bigger ones.