Archive for December, 2011

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: A New Year, New Momentum for Research

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Dear Research Advocate,

As we approach the New Year, a quick summary and word of thanks is in order.  Despite the unprecedented fiscal environment and an extraordinarily polarized Congress, research fared relatively well over the past year. NIH, CDC, NSF, and FDA all received budget increases in 2011, while AHRQ was cut slightly. The advocacy community has played a critical role in conveying to the public and policymakers that research should be a higher priority in America. Thank you for all your efforts over the past year. Read our year end press release with a statement from Research!America’s Chair, The Honorable John Porter.

In 2012, we face the fallout of the Supercommittee, which will bring devastating 8% across-the-board cuts beginning in January 2013 unless Congress reverses course. Everything that Congress does in 2012 will be with an eye on the November election. The presidential election is already in full swing with the Iowa Caucuses right around the corner and the Congressional races gearing up.

Medical progress – or the lack thereof – has implications for every American. As the elections approach, we must work together to ensure that research is an issue that every candidate has addressed. Our voter education initiative, Your Candidates–Your Health has attracted the attention of leading presidential candidates and media including The Hill and The New York Times, as well as over 100 print and online media hits for the press release covering the initiative and relevant poll data.  But we need advocates like you to help sustain the momentum. Attend a town hall meeting, write an op-ed or letter to the editor, and work with the media to make sure that candidates are talking about research. As I’ve said before and will again — we can’t expect elected officials who never talk about research as a national priority to suddenly decide to do so after they have taken office. We have to convince them now of the winning nature of championing research. Winning for the country, and a way to help them win election!

With the Iowa Caucuses coming up on January 3, the timing was good for our letter to the editor published last week in the Des Moines Register, commenting on Grinell President Raynard Kington’s op-ed and calling for the presidential candidates to talk about medical research. If you reside in the states with an early primary –  New Hampshire, Florida, or South Carolina – please get in touch. We will work together to get an op-ed placed in your state.

And don’t think only of those states. Follow the lead of Research!America Board member and Nobel Laureate Dr. Carol Greider who had an excellent op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun. In the article, Dr. Greider explains that “Our nation’s elected leaders are not championing science — or even talking about it, during presidential debates or on the floor of the Congress — even as other nations are stepping up their determination to match and exceed the U.S. in discovery. It takes years to realize the multiple benefits of science; without adequate, sustained funding for research, the careers of many bright, young scientists may come to a screeching halt.” This is the right message to send to the public and policymakers – if we fail to support research now we lose out on a better future for our nation.

A terrific op-ed by Dr. Huda Akil, neuroscientist at the University of Michigan and former President of the Society for Neuroscience, was recently published in The Washington Times. Under the title, “An Incomparable Nation,” Dr. Akil writes, “… there is a more fundamental reason, I believe, to support science in this country and to keep on doing so even during tough times. A reason that the world seems to recognize but we in America seem to be forgetting: Discovery is at the heart of what America is.” Research is part of America’s DNA, but we must work every day to ensure that our elected leaders don’t take this for granted.

Please help us fulfill our mission to make research for health a higher national priority.  For patients and their families, for our nation’s economic strength in the 21st century, for researchers and research institutions across the country…it has never been more important.  Donate now.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Washington and Iowa

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Dear Research Advocate,

After yet another short term continuing resolution, Congress has finally passed an omnibus bill that will fund the government through fiscal year 2012 and has moved on to other very contentious topics.  Including previously signed appropriations increases for FDA and NSF it is fair to say that overall, research has fared reasonably well in the current fiscal climate. Many of us, and you, have worked hard to achieve this.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – advocacy matters!  The NIH has received an increase of about $299 million,  significant given the severity of the current fiscal climate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have received an increase of about $25 million and the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was under significant threat, has been level funded. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) received a slight cut by about $3 million.

Enormous challenges lie ahead. The failure of the Supercommittee triggers an 8% across-the-board cut, in January 2013, if allowed to stand.  I am among those who believe that Congress will un-do much of the sequestration, although not necessarily to our advantage (much will depend on the strength of concerned interests in making their case).  And if no change happens before the election next November 6, the then lame-duck Congress may well exert its influence – but again, not necessarily in a way that the science community would relish.  And coming right up in the new year there will be great pressure to find additional cuts in the annual appropriations process, which will begin in February with the release of the President’s budget.  In my view, 2012 is the most important year for science on record;  stepped-up advocacy is essential!

And that is why it was good to see the Salk Institute and 33 Nobel Prize winners pen a letter to President Obama on NIH funding . The San Diego Union-Tribune covered the letter and quotes Dr. Roger Guillemin, who said “This funding crisis not only threatens the work of established, productive investigators but it endangers the well being of our future workforce and the ability to train the next generation of young investigators upon whom our economic future depends.” With so much at stake, now is not the time cut funding.

Also in the news this week was an op-ed written by former Research!America board member Dr. Bill Brinkley and Paul G. Rogers Global Health Ambassador Dr. Peter Hotez. Their article in the Houston Chronicle explains how U.S. scientists’ publications have fallen to third place in terms of scientific impact, behind Germany and the U.K. This is even more evidence that we are losing our competitiveness at a time when NIH funding is essentially flat and grant success rates are at an all-time low. States and the federal government alike need to maintain our nation’s long-standing commitment to science by continuing to support robust investment in research.

Especially given the national attention to Iowa, with the caucuses taking place there in less than two weeks, we were especially pleased to see an op-ed authored by Dr. Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College and former NIH associate director appear in the Des Moines Register. Dr. Kington points out that medical research is a critical issue for our nation with implications for our economy, our health, and the cost of healthcare, yet the presidential candidates have said relatively little on the topic.  To his point, I am glad to report that in response to a questionnaire from our voter education initiative, Your Candidates – Your Health we have heard from the Gingrich and Obama campaigns.  Today’s release on this topic also includes current public opinion poll data.  Check it out here: http://www.researchamerica.org/release_22dec11_ycyh

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

The Federal Government’s Role in Global Health R&D

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Research!America concluded its Global Health U.S. Agency Fact Sheet Series with the release of its U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) fact sheet. In addition to the USAID fact sheet, the six-part series includes fact sheets on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DoD), the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Each fact sheet details the agency’s involvement with global health research and development and its corresponding health and economic impact here at home. As the largest funder of global health research, the United States government is working through these agencies to ensure that our nation remains the world leader in biomedical innovation. Each agency’s vital and distinct contribution to better worldwide health is also a contribution to a safer future for our children.

Below are just a few examples of how the federal government is working to improve our health and boost our economy:

  • Each research grant awarded by the NIH helps to generate 7 new jobs; each $1 million NIH invests doubles to create $2 million in new state business activity.
  • The military (through DoD) has contributed to the development of 25% of all vaccines licensed in the U.S. since 1962.
  • The CDC employs more than 11,000 people throughout the nation and invested $37.6 million in global health research in FY2010.
  • The FDA is considered the global “gold standard” for food and drug safety regulation.
  • USAID immunization programs save more than 3 million lives each year and serve as a significant overseas diplomacy tool.

Although less than a penny of each federal dollar spent on health goes toward global health research and development, the American people and economy have nonetheless reaped rich rewards from this investment.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Congress Continues to Debate Final Spending Bill

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Dear Research Advocate,

As Research!America Chair John Porter and I discussed in our members-only call Monday, Congress has been struggling to finalize a large spending bill and resolve several other issues before their hoped-for departure Friday. At the time of this writing, the conference bill contains a $300 million increase for NIH, a $38 million increase for CDC and $3 million cut for AHRQ. However, the same bill also contains across-the-board cuts, which could effectively cancel out the increases. The across-the-board cuts are currently being debated and some or all may not be included in the final agreement. We are staying very close to the decision makers during this high-stakes time.

Holiday season or not, this is no time to rest. Research agencies — already on alert , using precious time and resources to prepare for the possibility of a government shutdown Friday at midnight, and still unsure about their budgets for a fiscal year that began on October 1 — will be facing additional pressure in the new year as the threat of an 8% sequester (across-the-board cut) still looms. The best strategy for stakeholders in research is to take every opportunity to raise the profile and importance of health research. You can do this by making sure it is an issue in the presidential election cycle. The Iowa caucuses are less than three weeks away, and several primaries will follow in close succession. Especially if you live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Florida, please contact us about penning an op-ed pointing out that research should be addressed by the presidential campaigns, for economic as well as health reasons. We expect to release information from the candidates next week as we go public with phase one of our voter education initiative, Your Candidates–Your Health; watch for this and build on it!

Speaking of news you can use as an advocate, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has released new polling data about medical research and deficit reduction. The data, which tracks what we are seeing in our commissioned polls and adds political texture, shows that 62% of Americans are opposed to significant cuts in medical research. Opposition to cuts remains strong among both Republicans and Democrats. When given a choice of several government programs that might be cut, only 7% of respondents selected medical research. You know and the American people know that cutting medical research is not a deficit reduction strategy; join me in spreading the word!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

PEPFAR as a Model of Smart & Effective Investments in Global Health

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Ambassador Eric Goosby, MD, is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and the honorary presenter for this year’s David E. Barmes Global Health Lecture, held every year at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In his speech, “PEPFAR: Moving From Science to Program to Save Lives,” Amb. Goosby’s focused on progress that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has made in the fight against HIV/AIDS and how this progress is helping to improve our future.

Among its many accomplishments, PEPFAR supports treatment for 3.9 million people around the world, has supported 1 million male circumcisions (which helps protect against the virus), and has been instrumental in showing the world “the heart of the American people” through “health diplomacy.”

PEPFAR is also “prioritizing smart investments [by engaging in] what works.” By eliminating redundancy, finding alternative and cost-effective solutions, and improving partner coordination, PEPFAR has strived for efficiency throughout its work. For example, PEPFAR has successfully driven down the per-person cost of HIV/AIDS treatment by a little more than two-thirds, or from $1,100 to $335 per year.

Amb. Goosby noted how research-driven agencies like the NIH have played significant roles in the interagency’s success and called PEPFAR the intersection “where science and implementation combine for critical impact.”

As Secretary Clinton said in her speech on “Creating an AIDS-Free Generation” in November, also at the NIH, the knowledge and technologies we have today have given us the “route we need to take” in the fight against AIDS. Amb. Goosby ended his speech on a similar optimistic note by quoting Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Global Health R&D as an Economic Driver: Maryland Case Study

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Research!America recently released an economic impact fact sheet on the state of Maryland, the latest in its series highlighting the benefits of global health R&D for states across the nation.

As home to major global health R&D players like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Johns Hopkins University, and product development partnerships Aeras and the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), investment in R&D plays a critical role to Maryland’s economic activity and growth. Maryland currently ranks as 9th in the nation in overall R&D funding for a total of $14.1 billion invested.

Recognizing the bioscience sector’s importance to his state’s economy, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley created BioMaryland 2020 in 2009, a $1.3 billion, ten year initiative to further develop Maryland’s bioscience industry.

In a public opinion poll fielded in October, Research!America found that:

  • 72% of Marylanders are concerned about global health;
  • 70% believe global health research is important to their state’s economy;
  • 76% are concerned that infectious diseases elsewhere in the world will have a domestic impact;
  • 78% feel that the U.S. is losing its global competitive edge in science, technology, and innovation;
  • 95% believe that elected officials should listen to advice from scientists and public health officials when considering health threats.

In recent news, Maryland global health nonprofit and Johns Hopkins University’s affiliate Jhpiego was awarded a two-year, $1.6 million grant by the GE Foundation, the philanthropic branch of General Electric (GE). This public-private partnership will create innovative, life-saving health technologies to improve maternal and child health in developing countries. One such device currently under development by Jhpiego and its partners is the E-Partogram, an electronic tool that will aid in the monitoring of the labor and delivery process and allow health care workers to quickly identify and address birthing complications. The GE grant will also help support Jhpiego and the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (JHU-CBID)’s Global Health Innovation Fellowship Program for the professional development of engineers interested in creating innovative technologies to address global health challenges.

“Maryland’s life sciences industry continues to be one of our strongest economic drivers, creating high-paying jobs even in tough times and helping to feed, fuel and heal our planet with life-saving discoveries…Together, we can unlock our future potential, while offering moral leadership in an increasingly connected world,” said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

To view other state case study fact sheets, go here.

Global Health Research a Priority for the American Voter

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Below are two sample data sets taken from Research!America-commissioned public opinion surveys in response to the question: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate in the 2012 elections who made global health research a top priority?”

These two examples suggest that making global health research a presidential candidate top priority is also a priority for many American voters.

What’s your opinion on this issue? Urge the presidential nominees to fill out a Your Candidates, Your Health survey to let the American people know where they stand on making health research a priority! Find out more here.

Attaining “The Right to Health” with Help from Product Development Partnerships

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Here in the U.S., we sometimes take for granted that health is a basic human right. We have clean water to drink, access to antibiotics, doctors to diagnose and treat us, and regulations that uphold a standard of care to protect our health.

But this isn’t necessarily true for the rest of the world. Today’s observance of Human Rights Day 2011 reminds us of how fortunate we are – and how important it is to make sure everyone has what the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calls “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” at a “standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity.”

Scientists, governments, pharmaceutical companies, foundations and others global health actors are coming together to work toward moving us closer to that goal. From a global health research perspective, public-private partnerships (PPPs), and specifically product development partnerships (PDPs), may be a part of the broader solution. PPPs are collaborations between public (i.e., government, nonprofit organizations) and private entities (for-profit businesses); PDPs are a form of PPPs devoted to the accelerated creation of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for vulnerable populations.

More specifically, these partnerships can help by:

(1) Increasing the availability of health goods:

For example, as seen in the advance market commitment (AMC) mechanism that GAVI has helped pioneer with its pneumococcal vaccine rollout, PPPs can help address supply and demand issues by ensuring that a certain number of health goods will be readily available and sold for a guaranteed low price.

(2) Lowering the cost of goods production and distribution:

As intentional collaborations between partners of complementary expertise, PDPs are models of efficiency. This efficiency results in cost-savings that ultimately allow for health technologies to be produced and sold at lower prices, which in turn increases the financial accessibility of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for the people who need them most.

(3) Ensuring that only the most advanced and effective health technologies make it to market:

PDPs also work to develop health technologies that are on the cutting-edge of medical and health technology. The R&D process is a rigorous one that weeds out underperforming candidates through a series of trials to ensure that the products that exit the pipeline are the very best science has to offer.

Although PDPs are by no means the end-all, be-all solution to resolving the barriers that stand in the way of global attainment of the right to health, they provide a proven and cost-effective means of advancing and accelerating the development of health technologies that are bringing us closer to a universal right to health.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Crucial Days for NIH, CDC, and AHRQ

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Dear Research Advocate,

Congress is fast approaching the December 16 deadline to pass a spending bill for FY12. There are nine remaining spending bills, and both chambers are working to craft an omnibus bill that would provide funding for the remainder of the fiscal year. Various policy riders have been muddling the process, but conferees are negotiating a final bill for both the House and Senate. No word yet on how NIH, CDC and AHRQ would fare in this legislation, but the previous minibus, which was signed into law, provided funding increases at NSF and FDA. Speak up for health research and contact your Members of Congress TODAY!

Last week, a terrific op-ed by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) appeared in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News: Maintaining a Steadfast Commitment to NIH Funding. Sen. Moran writes, “Our consistent, sustained support of medical research is essential to saving and improving lives, growing our economy, and maintaining America’s role as a global leader in medical innovation.”Especially if you live in Kansas, but even if not, please take 30 seconds to send an email to Sen. Moran thanking him for his commitment to medical research.

On Tuesday, United Health Foundation released its annual report, America’s Health Rankings, a comprehensive review of the health challenges facing every state. This data is invaluable in bringing elected officials’ attention to the reasons for the conduct of research – our health and the health of our economy is at stake! The report calls out an alarming increase in the rate of obesity. There is now no state with levels of obesity under 20%. With all the media attention on obesity and poll data that demonstrates the high level of public concern, this is a topic that must be addressed by policy makers, employers, families and individuals. It’s important to connect the dots to research as a way to better understand and conduct behavioral interventions and appropriate public policy. Previous public health success stories of turning around epidemics include combating tobacco use. Yes, difficult, but not impossible. Research matters!

December 23 marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the National Cancer Act and the commitment of significant public funds to the eradication of this scourge. The act was sponsored in the House by The Hon. Paul Rogers of Florida (Research!America’s chairman emeritus) and in the Senate by The Hon. Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts. Cancer researchers have made tremendous progress since the act was passed, but we still have farther to go and patients are waiting for a cure. That is why we must remind Congress that investing in cancer research must remain a national priority. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and John Kerry (D-MA) have introduced a resolution to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the act. As I write, there are 35 senators signed on and there is every reason to get to 100! Please contact your senators and urge them to sign on to the resolution.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Authors of Landmark Study on Economic Benefits of Advanced Medical Care for At-Risk Newborns Receive Garfield Economic Impact Award

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

WASHINGTON—December 8, 2011—The authors of a groundbreaking study on the economic benefits of advanced medical care for at-risk newborns today received the 2011 Garfield Economic Impact Award. Douglas Almond; Joseph J. Doyle, Jr.; Amanda E. Kowalski; and Heidi Williams are being honored for their paper titled “Estimating Marginal Returns to Medical Care: Evidence from At-Risk Newborns.” The award, presented by Research!America, recognizes the outstanding work of economists who demonstrate how medical and health research impacts the economy. The award is supported by a grant from Merck & Co., Inc.

The study, published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, shows that advanced medical care enables very low birth weight babies to “beat the odds” and survive at greater rates than would be expected based on birth weight alone.

The cost of medical treatments for at-risk newborns has increased considerably in recent years. In the U.S., preterm and low-birth weight diagnoses accounted for 8% of newborn admissions but 47% of costs for all infant hospitalizations, according to the paper. Using hospital discharge records for births in five states from 1991 to 2006, the authors found that newborns with birth weights just below 1,500 grams often have higher charges and more frequent medical interventions than babies at slightly higher weights. The authors found that when an intensive level of care was applied, very low birth weight babies defied expectation by surviving at greater rates than the higher birth weight babies. Despite the need for highly intensive care, the cost of saving the life of a newborn with birth weight near 1,500 grams is well below most value of life estimates.

Research!America’s chair, former Congressman John Edward Porter (R-IL), said, “The study demonstrates the net positive economic impact of advanced medical care for a highly vulnerable population. We applaud the winners for contributing policy-relevant evidence on the value of such care.”

“Though we have focused on the impact of medical care for at-risk newborns, we hope that our methodology will also shed light on the impact of medical care for other populations,” said Kowalski on behalf of the award recipients.

The 2011 Garfield Award was presented at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. The ceremony was followed by a panel discussion featuring award winner Amanda Kowalski, assistant professor of economics, Economics Department, Yale University; Alan Guttmacher, the director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Development; Tomas Philipson, a past winner of the Garfield Award and the Daniel Levin Professor of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago; and Billie Short, chief of neonatology at Children’s National Medical Center. Al Hunt, executive editor for Bloomberg News in Washington, DC, and the host of Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” moderated the discussion.

Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, said, “We are extremely pleased with the extraordinary work of these economists in analyzing the return on investment with advanced medical care for at-risk newborns. Their research underscores the cost savings associated with evidence-based, cutting-edge treatment.”

About the 2011 Recipients

Douglas Almond is an associate professor, Department of Economics and School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University. Amanda E. Kowalski is an assistant professor of economics, Economics Department, Yale University. Joseph E. Doyle Jr. is an associate professor of economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. Heidi Williams is an assistant professor, Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

About Research!America

Research!America is the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations that represent the voices of 125 million Americans. Visit www.researchamerica.org. For more information on the Garfield Award, visit www.researchamerica.org/economicimpact_award.

Sound Bites on the Benefits of Product Development Partnerships

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In November, Research!America hosted a Congressional briefing on the critical role of product development partnerships (PDPs) in advancing and accelerating global health research and development. This two-minute clip from the event footage (below) highlights the health and economic value of product development partnerships that are at the forefront of addressing global health challenges. PDPs contribute to global and domestic health, the economy, and US competitiveness.

The event featured speakers from Aeras, the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), OneWorld Health, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Neutralizing Antibodies Center at The Scripps Research Institute. The briefing was co-sponsored by Congressmen Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) offices, and moderated by Research!America president Mary Woolley.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Get Health Research Funding Back on Track

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Dear Research Advocate,

With all eyes on the supercommittee you may have lost track of the stalled appropriations process. Two months into the fiscal year, Congress has not passed the nine remaining appropriations bills, including the LHHS bill, which contains funding for NIH, CDC and AHRQ. The House and Senate have not yet conferenced; they are miles apart in their approaches. While it is possible that Congress will bundle an omnibus appropriations bill in the next two weeks, the odds of this happening are diminishing by the day.

There is speculation that yet another continuing resolution will be enacted to take the government from December 16 through January 2012. During this ongoing period of uncertainty for agency budgets, cuts are being made to many funded research projects already in progress. We’re wasting time and money, with a new round of administrative actions resulting from each continuing resolution. Time to tell Congress: Let’s just pass the bill and get the research done! Patients are waiting; highly-trained scientists are reconsidering their career paths. What will you do to be heard? Prof. Kerri Mowen of the Scripps Research Institute has launched a petition to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health. Sign on to the petition TODAY and make your voice heard. After you sign, be sure to share with your networks.

Also on our radar, and hopefully yours: election season. I’m sure you agree that it is critical to get research on the agenda of the presidential candidates. George Vradenburg, co-founder of USAgainstAlzheimer’s and Joel Maiola, former chief of staff to Sen. Judd Gregg, published a guest commentary in the Nashua Telegraph. The piece describes how Alzheimer’s disease has finally begun to emerge as a campaign issue, given that the disease has placed an overwhelming burden on our health and our health care system. Fortunately, “… more and more candidates are discussing Alzheimer’s as a national campaign issue.” But not enough are doing so as yet. As advocates, we all should be working to raise the visibility of health research in the presidential election. Please take a moment to urge candidates to participate in our Your Candidates–Your Health questionnaire. Send a message to the campaigns TODAY and ask them to respond. And write an op-ed for your local newspaper. If we want to protect and grow medical research funding, we cannot let up.

Today, December 1, World Aids Day provides a perfect opportunity to craft an op-ed or letter to the editor celebrating progress to date – AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence – and pointing out that it was the nation’s longstanding investment in research that changed everything 20 years ago. More research now can get us across the finish line and eradicate this scourge. With the science so close, this is not the time to make cuts.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

World AIDS Day 2011: A Reminder of the Challenges Ahead

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

As we commemorate World AIDS Day today, the global health community recognizes remarkable progress in treatment and prevention in the past three years while acknowledging the challenges that remain in the fight against AIDS. For example, although the rates of newly infected people have declined over the past decade and access to treatment rates has increased, the former still greatly outpaces the latter. For those the World Health Organization have deemed sick enough to require urgent treatment, only about half actually receive care. Still, UNAIDS reports that the “unparalleled global response of the past decade has already forced the epidemic into decline,” with a decrease in AIDS-related deaths amid “unprecedented funding” for HIV programs.

UNAIDS, the United Nations agency devoted to providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, reported over Thanksgiving that rates of new HIV infection have been steady over the past five years, with approximately 2.7 million newly infected people each year. In 33 countries, rates of new infection have declined; it is hoped that future rates of infection may be even lower, as a breakthrough study this year found that treatment reduced transmission from an infected person to their non-infected partner by as much as 96%. In Central Asia and Eastern Europe, however, the number of people living with HIV rose 250% during 2001-2010, and death rates continue to rise there even as they stabilize in other regions.

Progress continues to be made in the search for an HIV vaccine. The discovery of 17 unique antibodies with rare protective abilities against HIV by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and its partners earlier this year is one such success story, as scientists believe that this finding will be instrumental in creating an HIV vaccine.

While these developments are promising, sustained funding for HIV treatment may be adversely affected by the struggling global economy. For example, three days after the release of the UNAIDS annual report, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that it would not be funding new grant programs until 2014.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech on creating an “AIDS-free generation” earlier this month at the National Institutes of Health, setting such an ambitious goal may have been “unimaginable” in the past. But the knowledge and technologies we have today have given us the “route we need to take” to seize this historical opportunity in the fight against AIDS.

With an estimated 34 million people worldwide living with HIV, this year’s commemoration of World AIDS Day – 30 years since the discovery of HIV – reminds us of the scope and impact this pandemic has had on countless lives, the hope for new preventive measures and ultimately a cure, and the hard challenges that lie ahead to provide adequate prevention and treatment to all who require it.

For a CNN slideshow on “30 Years of AIDS Moments to Remember,” click here.