A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: How to handle an emergency when Congress is not in session

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate: 

The number of Zika cases continues to rise and mosquito season won’t be over anytime soon. Yet Congress hasn’t acted -- a good reason to maintain a permanent public health emergency fund. We have such funds for weather-related emergencies like hurricanes and floods, enabling immediate action whether or not Congress is in session, and we have a similar funding mechanism for public health emergencies...the problem is, there are no dollars in it. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) introduced legislation earlier this year, the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Act (H.R. 4525), to provide $5 billion for such a fund. “Labor-H” Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK-04) has also backed the need for a standing public health fund; he included a “reserve” fund for CDC in the House FY17 Labor-H Appropriations bill (which was passed out of full committee in July but is currently stalled, along with most appropriations bills). Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton this week proposed an emergency fund that, similar to the proposals of her former Congressional colleagues, would equip agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services to trigger the monitoring, testing and surveillance, research and other services required in such emergencies, and also allow FEMA to respond in the event of a public health emergency. 

The bipartisan interest in establishing a better way to address these emergencies is a positive -- I’d say necessary, step -- but it does not obviate the importance of taking action on the current Zika emergency. Congress has had ample opportunity to do so; if enough of us weigh in we can help assure action in September. Please take a moment to send a message to your representatives. 

Our August advocacy push has so far stimulated over 550 messages to Congress urging movement on the long-stalled Cures legislation. Last Sunday, Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed optimism for getting the legislation completed before the end of the year on Fox News, and yesterday, E&C Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI-06) penned an open letter to disease advocates, declaring this the “Summer of Cures.” Stay optimistic; we know advocacy works! 

In this week’s Nature I joined others to reflect on President Obama’s research legacy: elevating and spearheading national initiatives like precision medicine, the moonshot to cure cancer, and the BRAIN initiative. But what will happen to these endeavors after the election? Will they be pushed aside for other priorities, left to atrophy with diminishing resources, or will our newly elected officials build on accomplishments to date? Astellas President Jim Robinson suggests three priorities for new leadership, and further says, writing in Forbes, “..we’re long overdue to rethink how we value and support what results from decades of costly research and discovery. As a nation, we shouldn’t delay or de-prioritize the steps that separate us from the breakthrough treatment or cure for any number of devastating and costly diseases.” He cites a recent Galen Institute/ Center Forward poll indicating strong public support.

Our recent national surveys point in the same direction. Public interest and support for research and innovation is clear, but many candidates have yet to weigh in. Explore the Campaign for Cures interactive map to learn more. The primaries are still underway. If you vote in Florida or Arizona, let the candidates know before the election next Tuesday that their position (or lack thereof) on driving research and innovation will influence your vote. NEOMED President and Research!America board member Dr. Jay Gershen weighed in this week to describe how elected officials can create a climate favorable to public and private sector innovation in a new article on our Campaign for Cures blog.

Want to know more about the microbiome? I am pleased to announce an upcoming webinar for Research!America members on September 16th: The Microbiome Initiative: A Closer Look. Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi, Executive Director and CEO of the American Society for Microbiology will speak to us about the implications (health and otherwise) of this expansive, multi-disciplinary project. Registration is now open for this timely discussion. 

Finally: there’s still time to register for our National Research Forum on September 8.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

 

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana