Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Research funded by the CDC is critical to improving population health, bolstering our defense against bioterrorism, tracking the prevalence of diseases, and developing novel diagnostics and life-saving vaccines. The CDC works around the world to track disease outbreaks, like Ebola and Zika, respond to emergencies of all kinds, and use what they learn to develop and advocate public health policies that strengthen America′s health. 



NOTE: Does not include supplemental funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 or the Ebola emergency supplemental funding in 2015.

Sources: CDC Financial Management Office, House Committee on Appropriations.

Americans Support Increased Funding for CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. How important is it to increase funding for the CDC? 


Source: A Research!America poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in May 2018.

The History of CDC

It was 1942, and the United States was mobilizing for entry into World War II. The soldiers training in military bases across the southern U.S. faced a dangerous foe before they even left the United States: the mosquito-borne disease malaria. While we are no longer at risk for malaria infection in the U.S. today, at the time it was a major problem in that part of the country. To address the spread of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, the Office of Malaria Control in War Areas was created. Because of its focus on malaria control, the Office was located in Atlanta, Georgia (1).

The Office of Malaria Control Areas was the predecessor to the CDC, renamed  the “Communicable Disease Center” after the war. As malaria cases in the U.S. declined, the CDC expanded its attention to other infectious diseases impacting the nation (2)(3). In the 1950’s, the Center was instrumental to polio eradication efforts, collecting data and working to administer polio vaccinations (4). Thanks to the tremendous efforts of the CDC, the U.S. Public Health Service, and other partners, the U.S. was declared polio-free in 1979. As the CDC grew in both size and reputation, the responsibilities of the agency expanded to non-infectious disease threats.

In 1970, it was named the Center for Disease Control in recognition of this evolving role in public health. One such example: in 1976, CDC investigators analyzed blood samples and found that the level of lead in blood is associated with gasoline exposure. This finding led to policy changes to decrease and ultimately phase out the use of lead in gasoline (3).

The CDC in the 21st Century

The CDC has undergone additional name changes to become the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, more than 70 years since its founding, the CDC is the nation’s preeminent public health agency—focusing on health concerns that can affect entire populations. Thus, the CDC’s work largely involves understanding the impact of health issues on our communities and developing strategies to prevent diseases. The work of the CDC is integrated with other Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, which work together to ensure the health and safety of Americans. The agency also works with state and local public health departments, private industry, and health ministries in more than 50 countries across the world (5).

One significant role of the CDC is public health surveillance. The CDC, in partnership with federal, state and local agencies, collects and analyzes health-related data, such as causes of death, emergency room visits, and food-borne illness. The CDC and other agencies rely on these data to respond promptly and effectively to public health threats (7).

The CDC continues to remain vigilant to meet new needs for our nation. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was established in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks. If a health emergency is declared, the EOC is ready to act - scientific experts are deployed to the site of the emergency to lead response efforts, and EOC staff coordinate the delivery of supplies, equipment, and other resources. Since 2001, the EOC has been activated for a variety of incidents, including natural disasters, the 2014 and 2018 Ebola epidemics, the Boston marathon bombing, and the Flint, Michigan water contamination (8, 9,10).

The CDC also plays a pivotal role in responding to new infectious disease threats in the United States and around the globe. One important example is antibiotic resistance. Every year in the U.S., at least 2 million people contract an antibiotic-resistant infection, resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths (11). Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria can no longer be killed by the drugs that we use to treat them. These resistant “superbugs” have arisen over time as they’ve evolved in response to the increased use of antibiotics. The CDC coordinates efforts across agencies to combat this emerging problem. CDC officials partner with the public and private sectors to encourage the development of new treatments, diagnostics, and prevention strategies, and work with health care practitioners to improve antibiotic prescribing practices. Additionally, the CDC is participating in public engagement efforts to alert people to the problem of antibiotic resistance, and what they can do as individuals to help prevent it (11).

The CDC is also involved in addressing emerging health crises of a non-infectious nature-- for example, the opioid epidemic. In 2006, the agency scaled up efforts to collect and interpret data related to drug overdoses, identifying prescription opioids as the primary concern. The CDC is continuing research efforts to prevent opioid overdoses and other related harms, providing evidence-based guidance for local health organizations, health care providers, public safety officers, and consumers (13).

In addition to responding to new and emerging health threats, the CDC leads prevention initiatives for persistent, ongoing health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and COPD. The agency is even involved in addressing issues such as injury and violence. For example, from 2011-2016, the CDC operated a campaign called “Dating Matters.” The program was launched in urban middle schools across four states and was designed to promote healthy, non-violent relationships between teens. The CDC followed up with students every year, and found that teens who went through the Dating Matters program were less likely to be perpetrators or victims of dating violence (14). This program is an excellent example of how population-level studies can be used to determine what interventions actually work, providing real-world solutions to problems that impact our communities.  

From emergency preparedness to drug overdoses and infectious disease outbreaks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides effective, science-driven solutions. Together with other local, state, federal, private sector, and international organizations, the CDC is working 24/7 to protect the health of our communities, our country, and others across the globe.

To stay up-to-date on current public health issues, and how the CDC is addressing them, the CDC publishes the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and the Vital Signs.



Policy Contacts

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