Medical research funding cuts could be hazardous to America’s health
President Obama’s budget recommendation to freeze funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is shortsighted.
The NIH is the largest supporter of medical research in the world. But with a frozen budget, the research that could reduce chronic diseases disproportionately affecting minority populations will slow considerably.
This year alone, more than half a million Americans will die from heart disease. African-American men are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than white men, and African-Americans are 50 percent more likely than whites to have a stroke. African-American men are also nearly 10 times more likely to die of AIDS than white men.
African-American women are diagnosed less frequently with breast cancer than white women but are 36 percent more likely to die from the disease.
The prevalence of diabetes in African-Americans and Hispanics is roughly double that of whites, and Hispanics have higher rates of obesity than non-Hispanic whites.
These statistics demonstrate some of the gaping health disparities in the United States that must be addressed.
Fortunately, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the NIH, has been established to conduct lifesaving research throughout the country to help close these gaps. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also studies relevant issues, including barriers to accessing health care. This diversity of research is critical to reducing premature deaths and preventable disabilities among minority populations.
We have the brainpower assembled to tackle health disparities; now we need the resources to accomplish the goal.
Sadly, medical research has been largely overlooked during the presidential campaign. This is surprising, given that biomedical research is critical to lowering the cost of health care, bringing new, lifesaving cures and treatments to patients who cannot afford to wait, tackling disparities in health and creating research and manufacturing jobs.
To address this issue, Research!America, a nonprofit advocacy group, is asking all the presidential candidates to complete a survey enabling voters to get a better understanding of the priority each candidate places on medical progress. I hope that every candidate takes this issue seriously enough to respond. Every voter — and indeed, every American — deserves to know where every candidate stands on research to improve health and save lives.
We have all benefited from investments in research, through vaccines, drugs, devices and evidence-based public health and prevention strategies. If we want to continue to enjoy healthier and more productive lives and address health disparities, we must ensure that health research remains a top national priority — even in tough fiscal times.
Our health, our global competitiveness and our economic prosperity depend on it.
Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., was the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1989 to 1993 and is president emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Sullivan is the chairman of the National Health Museum in Atlanta and chairman of the Sullivan Alliance to Transform America’s Health Professions. He is an emeritus director of Research!America and can be reached at email@example.com.