Where do the candidates stand on research to improve health?

Mary Woolley

Candidates running for national office never miss an opportunity to share their solutions on the many problems facing our country with voters. From terrorism to transportation to education, the presidential candidates clamor for attention on hot button issues of the day. Yet they are not outlining their proposed solutions for healing what literally ails Americans - Alzheimer's disease, cancer, mental illnesses, and many other health threats. Despite the prevalence of disease and its impact to our health, economy and national security, candidates seem to be giving this issue a pass. Only 14% of Americans say they are very well-informed of the positions of current candidates for President about public policies and public funding for science and innovation, according to a national public opinion survey commissioned by Research!America and ScienceDebate.org.

Why are discussions about research and innovation that will drive medical progress absent from the campaign trail?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), has lost nearly a quarter of its purchasing power in the last decade. Congressional champions for research have now stepped up to the plate to ensure funding increases for NIH and other federal health agencies in FY16, but we need so much more. Robust, predictable and sustainable funding is necessary if we are to attract and retain bright young scientists to dedicate their careers to discovery, and the solutions that follow. Patients are waiting; in a nation of such storied history and promise they shouldn't have to wait so long.

The Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), made possible by a bold national investment in decoding the human genome, has the potential to shift "one-size-fits all" treatments for a host of diseases to a "one-size-fit-one" approach. In other areas, the NIH has launched the BRAIN initiative to better understand neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and it has accelerated research to develop a universal flu vaccine to work against all strains. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also tasked with protecting Americans from health threats and ensuring safe and effective treatments reach patients in a timely fashion. Yet these agencies have been working in fiscally constrained environments for some time. And the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which strives to address inefficiencies in healthcare delivery, continues to be underfunded as challenges to improve quality of care mount in an evolving healthcare system. It is time to put the brain power and the commitment of these agencies, and those they employ and fund across the country, to work in a way that matches the aspirations of all Americans to achieve better health.

Antimicrobial resistance, a global health threat, results in 23,000 deaths each year in the U.S., according to the CDC, and the numbers are expected to increase as more infections become resistant to antibiotics currently on the market. Recently, more than 150 organizations pledged to improve antibiotic use and slow the spread of antibiotic resistance but an infusion of federal funds is critical for research and the development of new antibiotics. That is just one of the urgent challenges that we ignore at our peril.

Americans deserve to know if candidates will assign a high priority to tackling what ails us. Throughout this election cycle, Research!America and our partners are engaging candidates through the national voter education initiative, Campaign for Cures: Vote for Medical Progress, (www.campaignforcures.org). The campaign aims to inform candidates about the societal, health and economic benefits of research, and urge that they speak up. Bipartisan support for research and innovation has gained traction in Congress; we can't afford to elect individuals who will slow the momentum of medical progress. Let us urge those who want our votes to tell us about their plans to drive that momentum and leave a legacy of better health for our nation.

(This blog post originally appeared in The Huffington Post).  

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Luck shouldn't play a role in why I'm alive.
Laurie MacCaskill, a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor