Dear Research Advocate:
We thought we learned our lesson after 9/11 and anthrax attacks. After the trauma and after fear swept the nation, we invested substantially in “preparedness.” But then we drifted into complacency, and began cutting deeply into the kind of preparedness that is less visible than TSA and drone strikes, but, as Ebola is teaching us now, no less valuable. As mentioned in today’s congressional hearing on the subject, the decade-long pattern of cuts to federal health agencies, as well as to funding for hospital and public health preparedness, has now been revealed to have been short-sighted. (Much of the cutting was carried out over the years as a way to “prioritize” federal spending in the face of today’s presumably more pressing problems, including reducing the federal deficit and debt. If our policymakers were holding true to the financial priority argument, they wouldn’t have short-changed NIH, NSF, FDA and CDC or acted to discourage private sector research and innovation. Medical research to develop treatments that slow the progression and ultimately prevent Alzheimer’s and obesity is the only means we have of preventing an entirely foreseeable explosion in national health spending! Mary Lasker got to the heart of the matter when she said: “If you think research is expensive, try disease.”)
We expect our elected officials to be preparing on all fronts. There will be more Ebolas. That is scary, but it is inevitable. Maybe the next Ebola will take the form of a virus akin to HIV/AIDs or a major act of bioterrorism or a drug-resistant airborne infection. We are a globalized world facing global health threats, and the federal agencies responsible for preventing and responding to these threats must be supported, not politicized, demonized, or starved. Nor should we address one problem by neglecting others, funding Ebola by reducing dollars for research crucial to combating other health threats.
A timely survey of public opinion on Ebola-related issues was released today by Kaiser Family Foundation. The percentage (45%) of people concerned that they or their family members might contract Ebola is not based on public health likelihood, but is nonetheless reminiscent of the fear of HIV/AIDS. Knowing that nearly half the populace believes they could contract a deadly virus at any time, perhaps policymakers will dispense with the finger pointing and demonstrate the ability to work together — they managed it after 9/11 and we need them to summon that statesmanship again. Would that every member of Congress gather the will and rise above politics when it comes to objectives as fundamental as combating disease and saving lives.
If what you are reading and seeing stirs you to advocacy, please get in touch with me. We can help with LTEs, op-eds, meetings with congressional members and key staff. This Sunday at 8:30 a.m., I will be part of an interview on BioCentury TV about research funding, teeing off the recent Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS and highlighting initiatives like Ask Your Candidates! that provide other ways for people who are concerned about finding solutions to what ails us to assure that science can thrive. The program will air in the Washington, D.C. area on WUSA-TV channel 9, as well as on PBS stations across the country, and will be archived online following the broadcast at http://www.biocenturytv.com. Please tune in!
But better yet, don’t wait for Sunday morning to engage your candidates on the importance of medical progress. Early voting has begun in some states. We don’t have much more time. Click here to participate in the Ask Your Candidates! voter education initiative and help elect research champions. It’s clearer than ever that we need leaders who demonstrate the forethought to invest in research and public health preparedness; leaders who are prepared to help assure a healthier, more prosperous nation.