A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Time for Thanks (and) Giving

Dear Research Advocate:

Mark your calendar for two important days next week: First, next Monday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day. Check out our updated fact sheet, which provides a snapshot of HIV/AIDS and the transformative impact of HIV/AIDS research.  I especially hope that you will take the time to read the profile of Maria Davis, an individual living with HIV who works to help others with, or at risk of contracting, the disease.

When I think of what I’m thankful for, people like Maria are high on my list.  Which leads me to another reason to express gratitude, this time to the many organizations and individuals who participated in Public Health Thank You Day (PHTYD) on Nov. 24.  Research!America established this day of thanks to commemorate individuals like Maria whose profession or avocation is in the public health arena.  Participation this year was truly remarkable, with more than 750 tweets about #PHTYD (including a tweet from the Acting U.S. Surgeon General!) that reached over 1.7 million Twitter users.

But back to the future: the second key date is Giving Tuesday (Tuesday, Dec. 2). This day, shared on social media using the hashtag #GivingTuesday, serves as a national reminder to make charitable donations to the causes you value.  I hope you will consider making a contribution to Research!America and asking your networks to do the same.  Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the contributions you make in December will be matched one for one, up to $15,000.

Why donate to Research!America? Because every single minute of every single day, Americans are losing loved ones to deadly and disabling diseases that should be part of our past, not our future.  If our nation rallies behind U.S. research & development instead of neglecting it, lethal threats like Alzheimer’s, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder and muscular dystrophy don’t stand a chance.  By engaging the public, partnering with the R&D community, and making enough noise to get the attention of the White House and Congress, we can speed medical progress and save lives. Click here for a testimonial that truly puts this cause into perspective.  And please don’t hesitate to stop by our website: www.researchamerica.org or contact Carol Kennedy at ckennedy@researchamerica.org or 703-739-2577 for more information on our work.

I hope you’re able to spend a few well-deserved days off this week with loved ones. A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

Mary Woolley

Early-Career Public Health Professional: Alison Chiaramonte

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day, we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day. Our fifth professional today: Alison Chiaramonte, M.P.H., candidate at the Milken Institute of Public Health, George Washington University

alisonWhat drew you to a career in public health?

After college, I worked for a few years in IT consulting and while I enjoyed my colleagues and grew professionally in a great work environment, I did not feel passionate about the subject matter. I started exploring my personal interests, wondering if it would actually be possible to turn them into a career. I started to define my interests, which ranged from resource conservation and alternative energies to environmental health risks and chronic disease prevention. A friend encouraged me to look at various graduate programs and I felt a connection to GW’s public health program. I saw what the program graduates were doing and realized I could pursue a career that allowed me to express and practice my interests.

What has been the most rewarding component of your current program?

So far, it has been most rewarding to be in class or studying and feel a personal connection to a lot of the subject matter. I think to myself, “That’s what I want to know more about!” or “That’s what I want to dedicate my career to!” I didn’t realize, for example, that I could one day specialize in environmental risk factors for certain kinds of cancer without becoming an oncologist or other medical professional that did not speak to me. My program has shown me that not only is there a niche for me in public health to pursue my passions but that there are various niches I could pursue. It is also rewarding to know that I am building a career that will enable me to give back.  Continue reading →

Early-Career Public Health Professional: Dinorah Lissette Calles

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day, we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day. Our fourth professional today: Dinorah Lissette Calles, Ph.D., M.P.H., lieutenant at the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and epidemic intelligence service (EIS) officer (Class of 2013) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assigned to North Dakota.

CallesDLWhat drew you to a career in public health?

I love the interdisciplinarity of public health. As an epidemiologist, understanding culture, values, beliefs and population behavior is fundamental to the understanding of multilevel determinants of health and knowing what information to gather, how to gather it and how to process and disseminate it. In my research to date, I have drawn from disciplines such as anthropology, history, psychology and education studies to apply appropriate field research and analytical methodologies. While epidemiology is of course rigorous and quantitative in methods, it also calls for a measure of creativity in design and application of methodology, rendering it a fascinating discipline. The service aspect of public health is also incredibly rewarding. At the end of the day, knowing that one’s work has the potential for impacting a community’s or population’s well-being is a tremendous privilege.

What has been the most rewarding component of your current position as an EIS officer?

An EIS assignment to a state health department allows for work in a broad range of health events, and having the opportunity to serve in diverse settings and in rich collaborations at all levels of public health – local, state, tribal, federal and international – has been nothing short of amazing. In my first year, I responded to a large healthcare — associated outbreak, coordinated a large multi-agency health screening event in an American Indian reservation, assisted in a state-level evaluation of a vaccine-preventable disease, worked in partnership with a large county to interview Hispanic community members about health beliefs and behaviors, among other projects. That my work has informed public health practice at the local and state level is humbling. Continue reading →

Early-Career Public Health Professional: Julie Babyar

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day, we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day. Our third  professional today is Julie Babyar, R.N., M.P.H., a science policy intern at Research!America.

What drew you to a career in public health?

JulieWhen I started college, I originally intended to follow an animal sciences path. I took a population health class and soon decided to study nursing. From there, I felt a very natural instinct and draw to public health. In public health, you have an opportunity to make a difference by problem solving for communities on a large scale as well as for the individual community member. Looking back, I was raised and grew up with a strong sense of community, so it’s a natural fit.

What do you enjoy most about your current position as an early career public health professional?

The position I have now is one of the most rewarding I’ve had. As an intern, I’m given so many opportunities to learn and connect with partners and stakeholders in medical research. I love understanding and shaping policy and advocacy for health, and my colleagues provide me with mentorship every day. Public trust is just as important as trust within the medical community for health policy, and great communication builds that for any organization. Having experience in multiple health sectors allows me to share my perspective as well. Truly, connecting and building relationships is my favorite part of the job. As a society, we don’t always agree on health issues and policies. Relationships help us to understand, compromise and build together, and that’s what I love about this job and this organization. Continue reading →

Early-Career Public Health Professional: Andrew Hennenfent

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day. Our second  professional today is Andrew Hennenfent, D.V.M., M.P.H., a CDC/CSTE applied epidemiology fellow at the District of Columbia Department of Health.

What drew you to a career in public health?

AndrewAfter being accepted to veterinary school during my senior year of college, I attended a presentation given by the director of the DVM/MPH joint degree program at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine which centered on the critical role that veterinarians play in public health.  During the presentation, the speaker described the unique perspective veterinarians contribute to public health through their understanding of herd health dynamics and the pathogenesis of current and emerging zoonotic diseases. Growing up on a multigenerational family farm in western Illinois, I had already gained firsthand knowledge of these health issues and liked the idea of integrating my production animal background and future veterinary training into the field of public health with the ability to someday address health issues that have broad impacts on multiple species.

What do you enjoy most about your current position as an early career public health professional?

As a newly appointed CDC/CSTE Applied Epidemiology Fellow in infectious disease at the District of Columbia Department of Health, I enjoy the daily challenge of dealing with both animal and human based health concerns. Working at a local health department gives me the opportunity to interact with the general public on a regular basis through both disease investigations and wellness initiatives that address challenges as they arise. Since all response starts locally, it is rewarding to see the programs and projects I contribute to directly impact and improve the lives of the intended community groups. Continue reading →

Early-Career Public Health Professional: Sasha McGee

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day we will be highlighting public health professionals throughout the day today.  Our first professional is Sasha McGee, Ph.D., M.P.H., epidemic intelligence service officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assigned to the District of Columbia Department of Health.

SashaWhat drew you to a career in public health?

My earliest educational and research experiences were guided by my passion to pursue a career in which my work would contribute to the improvement of health. After completing my doctoral training, I knew that I did not just want to conduct research but to participate in the translation of data into interventions that would benefit large populations. The field of public health seemed to be the perfect choice in terms of having the opportunity to both investigate and address health challenges.

What do you enjoy most about your current position as an early career public health professional?

What I enjoy most about my current position is the opportunity to participate in projects on a wide range of topics — I am always learning something new and no day is ever the same. I also appreciate the collaborative nature of my work. Continue reading →

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Leading with bipartisanship; energized by inspiring stories

Dear Research Advocate:

The goal of the 21st Century Cures Initiative, launched last May by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI-06) and Ranking Member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Diana DeGette (D-CO-01), is passage of legislation in 2015 that will eliminate obstacles to faster medical progress. (Representatives Upton and DeGette spoke to a packed audience at FasterCures “Partnering for Cures” meeting in New York on Monday, explaining their goals. Check this out, being sure to listen to the personal story of determination told by Sonia Vallabh; she and her husband have changed their careers to help find a cure for fatal familial insomnia.)

It is exciting to see, for the first time in years, a bipartisan health-related effort gathering strength and support. All of us, whether we are patients or advocates or both, stand to benefit. Research!America has been working with 21st Century Cures to promote strategies that will help speed progress at every stage of the research and development continuum. The most recent example is urging Representatives Upton and DeGette to incorporate Congressman Larry Bucshon’s Research and Development Efficiency Act in their planned legislation. H.R. 5056 would streamline the unjustifiably onerous layers of regulation imposed on federally funded research, freeing up dollars and time to allow research to move faster. Continue reading →

Statement by Research!America president and CEO Mary Woolley on the New Chair of the House Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee

November 20, 2014

Congressman Tom Cole’s leadership on the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee will help shape our ability to sustain and accelerate medical innovation as we confront health crises here and abroad. As a steward of the federal funding that lays the noncommercial foundation for private sector medical progress, Congressman Cole will play a pivotal role in determining whether our nation conquers Alzheimer’s, childhood cancer, Ebola and other insidious health threats. We commend his efforts to ensure quality health care for veterans, remove barriers to innovation through the repeal of the medical device tax and advance other health and research-related initiatives. We look forward to working with the congressman to strengthen our nation’s research infrastructure for the millions of patients awaiting new therapies and cures.

Research!America and Partners Salute Heroes on the Front Lines of Public Health

Public Health Thank You Day, November 24, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va.-November 20, 2014-As Thanksgiving approaches, Research!America and leading U.S. public health organizations urge Americans to salute public health professionals who go above and beyond to protect the health of our nation. Public Health Thank You Day honors all those unsung heroes who keep our drinking water safe and air clean, develop vaccines, track and investigate infections, and protect us against  threats  such as influenza, the Ebola and Enterovirus D68 outbreaks and natural disasters.

“Every day, public health professionals here and around the world work in challenging and sometimes dangerous situations to protect our health.  The Ebola epidemic in West Africa and cases of Ebola in the U.S. are a reminder of the global nature of public health threats,” said Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Whether they are working to keep us safe from infectious disease threats, or finding ways to promote healthy opportunities, thanks to all the dedicated public health professionals who work to keep us safe and healthy.”

These everyday heroes include our health inspectors, environmental health scientists, laboratorians, epidemiologists, public health researchers, sanitation workers, nurses and many other dedicated workers. The CDC, local health departments and various institutions within our public health infrastructure have come together to address recent outbreaks, and public health professionals are tackling these threats head-on – as they do with other health challenges on a daily basis. Continue reading →

Statement from Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley on Hon. Rush Holt named AAAS CEO

November 18, 2014

We extend warmest congratulations to Congressman Rush D. Holt, Ph.D., on the announcement of his new position as chief executive officer of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and executive publisher of Science family of journals. As a trained physicist, Representative Holt leveraged his scientific understanding to propel and enact policies that have contributed significantly to improving our nation’s health and economic security. During his distinguished tenure in Congress, he worked tirelessly to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and helped enact the America COMPETES Act to strengthen investments in research and development. Representative Holt recognizes the value of inspiring the next generation of scientists, helping to restore investments in the Department of Education’s Mathematics and Science Partnerships program. His passion for science and commendable track record make him an exceptionally fine choice to lead one of the nation’s most highly-regarded and well-respected scientific organizations. We look forward to working closely with Representative Holt to build a deeper appreciation for science among policymakers and the general public. Outgoing AAAS CEO and Research!America board member, Alan Leshner, Ph.D., has been an outstanding leader and we are confident he will continue to be a prominent voice in science advocacy.

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Remembering the NTDs on “Public Health Thank You Day”

By Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Hotez is the President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, and founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He is also Baker Institute Fellow in Disease and Poverty at Rice University, and University Professor at Baylor University, all located in the state of Texas.

In honor of Public Health Thank You Day, Dr. Hotez sits down to talk about his work on neglected tropical diseases and their importance in global public health initiatives:

hotezThe neglected tropical diseases – the “NTDs” – are a group of tropical infections that disproportionately plague the world’s poorest people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. I used to refer to the NTDs as “the most important diseases you have never heard” until Ebola virus infection became a household name.

But Ebola virus infection is not even close to being the world’s most common NTD. Today, every single person living in extreme poverty suffers from at least one NTD. Many, like Ebola, are killer diseases such as African sleeping sickness and kala-azar. Indeed these NTDs killed hundreds of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa during the last half of the 20th century, most of them like today’s Ebola victims who live amidst conflict or in post-conflict countries and regions.

Still other NTDs are chronic and debilitating conditions such as hookworm, schistosomiasis, elephantiasis, river blindness and trachoma that thwart economic development because of their ability to damage agricultural workers and growing children, or adversely affect pregnancies and women’s health.

In the years following the launch of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, the global public health community began waking up to the importance of NTDs and opportunities to control or eliminate them. A major approach has been to simultaneously target intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, elephantiasis, river blindness, and trachoma, with partial or complete so-called “rapid impact packages” of medicines administered once or twice yearly. The World Health Organization sometimes refers to this approach as preventive chemotherapy. Preventive chemotherapy is highly cost-effective in part because the major pharmaceutical companies are generously donating essential NTD medicines for these diseases and because they have a great safety profile and can be administered by community health workers or even school teachers. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently announced that more than one billion people have received these medicines through their support, while the British Department for International Development (DFID) has also provided large scale funding as well as the private END (Ending Neglected Disease) Fund. Our Global Network for NTDs is simultaneously providing strategically placed advocacy to promote NTD awareness and support for other European nations, and some of the BRICS countries.

In parallel, there is an urgent need to conduct research and development (R&D) for new NTD drugs, diagnostics and vaccines. We have seen the horrible consequences of not investing in these products for West Africa. As a result we face serious delays in getting new Ebola virus drugs and vaccines to the people who desperately need them. But Ebola is not alone: Our Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, based at the National School of Tropical Medicine of Baylor College of Medicine has a portfolio of new vaccines to combat several other NTDs including hookworm infection, schistosomiasis, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and West Nile virus infection.   We have been successful at early stage development for these new vaccines, but like the Ebola virus vaccine problem we need to refine and improve the roadmap and business model for rapidly accelerating their final product and development and licensure.   We have started to work with the US State Department to see whether we might enlist key research enterprises of foreign governments to partner with us in order to advance such vaccines – a concept I refer to as “vaccine diplomacy”.

We have a long way to go. Preventive chemotherapy is still reaching less than 50 percent of vulnerable populations who deserve access to essential NTD medicines, while R&D for new NTD vaccines and drugs is mostly at a nascent stage. In West Africa this fall of 2014 we have seen the dramatic consequences of doing nothing for NTD threats such as Ebola. It is an especially tragic situation that we do not have anti-Ebola virus vaccines stockpiled and ready to roll out even though the technology has been available for at least a decade in some instances. My hope is that the humanitarian crisis created by possibly not having an Ebola vaccine in time for this 2014-15 epidemic might reignite the global public health and scientific community to rethink the strategic and economic importance of new NTD products.

On November 24, Research!America and public health organizations and advocates will celebrate Public Health Thank You Day, a chance to recognize public health professionals who work round-the-clock to protect the health of all Americans. To learn more, visit www.publichealththankyouday.org.

Save the Date for Public Health Thank You Day, November 24

PHTD banner bluePlease join Research!America and leading U.S. public health organizations on Monday, Nov. 24, to celebrate Public Health Thank You Day, a chance to recognize public health professionals who work round-the-clock to protect the health of all Americans.

In order to facilitate your participation in Public Health Thank You Day, we have provided an online toolkit on the Public Health Thank You Day site. We encourage you to use these materials to issue your own press release, submit a letter to the editor, offer a certificate of thanks, share social media posts (#PHTYD) and more.

This year, in addition to thanking all public health heroes, we are highlighting the special roles of health professionals in our community, to salute those individuals who advance public health at all levels. We invite you to learn about the many careers which support public health, and join with us in calling attention to these extraordinary individuals.

Thank you for your ongoing participation in Public Health Thank You Day. If you participate on Monday, Nov. 24, please share your activities with us at publichealththankyouday@researchamerica.org!

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: The 113th Congress and the 114th

Dear Research Advocate:

Post-election analysis continues. Several publications and forums have addressed congressional action on repealing the medical device tax – this is now more about ‘when’ than ‘if’ – and additional tax changes as well. Advocacy will speed the day and make the difference on these issues. In the lead editorial of tomorrow’s issue of Science, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner and I call on the science community to connect to newly elected members of Congress; we point out that ‘out of sight’ means not only ‘out of mind’ but all too soon could mean science and scientists are ‘out of luck’! Information drawn from our AskYourCandidates! voter education initiative can help you understand priorities of those elected; so can the “new members” guide issued by The Hill.  In keeping with the imperative that science not be invisible in Washington, we will be a co-host of an in-person reception for new members next week. It’s critical to be sure science isn’t overlooked in the competition to attract attention to a wide range of issues.

It is equally important to fight for attention in the lame-duck session. Earlier this week, Research!America board member E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, co-authored an op-ed in The Hill with Paul B. Rothman, M.D. The authors warned that the nation is at risk of creating a “discovery deficit” if decision makers are not more forward-thinking with policy decisions. We expressed a similar sentiment in a letter sent yesterday to congressional leadership about the importance of passing an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2015 that increases the nation’s investment in medical, health and other scientific research. That means Congress must do the particularly hard work of negotiating the “Labor-H” bill, which includes funding allocations for NIH, CDC and AHRQ. Join us in the advocacy effort to assure an omnibus in the lame-duck Congress by sending your own letter to your elected officials. Continue reading →

Poised for big breakthroughs, US scientists find dwindling support

Excerpt of an op-ed published in The Hill by Research!America Board member E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, VP of medical affairs at the  University of Maryland, the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the School of Medicine; and Paul B. Rothman, M.D., Frances Watt Baker, M.D. and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D. Dean of the Medical Faculty, VP of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

reece and paulWith the midterm elections now behind us, we could not help but notice that one crucial policy issue was not considered in a serious or thoughtful way on the campaign trail: today’s woeful funding shortfalls in science.

The American research enterprise, long the world’s gold standard for scientific progress, is at risk of slipping behind. For over a decade, the federal government has pulled back financial support for biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget has failed even to keep pace with the cost of conducting research; factoring in inflation, it has declined 24 percent since 2003. Yes, we need to shrink the federal deficit, but by targeting research spending, this country risks trading a budgetary deficit for a discovery deficit.

Our academic medical centers at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland have made immense contributions to science, including the discovery of restriction enzymes, which gave birth to genetic engineering; the identification of the three types of polio virus; the discovery of a new class of drugs to treat breast cancer; and the development of vaccines for swine flu. Without NIH-funded basic research, none of these advances would have reached a single patient. Yet in fiscal year 2014, our two medical schools took a sequestration hit of about 10 percent on average of our total NIH funding. As we stare down the public-health threat of Ebola virus, we are calling on Congress to rethink its budgetary priorities and make biomedical research a national mandate.

Currently, NIH and other science agencies are operating under a continuing resolution, set to expire in December. This scenario creates tremendous uncertainty. Academic institutions like ours need consistency in federal funding so that we can align the size of our training programs to fit our future research workforce.

Read the full op-ed here.           

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: “Hang together or hang separately”

With the exception of the December run-off in Louisiana and final tallies in a few very close contests, we know the basic political landscape for the next two years. The change is greater than many analysts predicted, although it is not a surprise that the House and the Senate will both be Republican-controlled for the first time in eight years. What does this mean for U.S medical progress and scientific discovery generally? According to our experts at Research!America’s post-election briefing hosted by the AAAS this morning, we can expect some highs and lows in both the “lame-duck” and the next appropriations cycle, with the first seven months of the new year being the limited window of opportunity before most attention turns to the presidential election. Guest speaker David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call senior editor, provided a synopsis of exit polling and voter turnout, which reflected the public’s discontent with the White House and Congress, a continued emphasis on economic concerns, and even splits between Republicans and Democrats on just about every other issue, a combination of factors that doesn’t bode well for bipartisanship generally, much less regular order or major policy changes. In a panel moderated by Rebecca Adams of CQ HealthBeat, Research!America Chair John Porter, Vice Chair Mike Castle, board member Kweisi Mfume and Bart Gordon, all distinguished former Members of Congress, offered predictions on how — or indeed whether — the new Congress will assign a high priority to research moving forward. Congressman Gordon lamented the fact that post-election op-eds and news articles about the agendas of both parties do not mention R&D; there is clearly much more work ahead of us.  Continue reading →

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