As we prepare to gather with family and friends around tables big and small, it’s time to ask the age old question: What are you thankful for this year?
Many of us will mention we are thankful for our health, but chances are that few will express thanks for the scientific research and public health vigilance that play a pivotal role in health and health care.
In 1918, a major flu pandemic took the lives of 675,000 Americans and 50 million people across the globe. Today, vaccination and medicines that reduce the effects of the flu have dramatically reduced its impact. Looking ahead, researchers are making progress toward a “universal” flu vaccine that crosses all strains of flu and provides even greater protection against this all too common health threat.
With tireless work, year after year researchers and public health professionals find more ways to keep our loved ones at our tables – staving off the burden of disease. We now have opportunities to get and stay healthy that we did not have just thirty years ago, and that’s something to celebrate.
For example, in 1950, nearly 900,000 Americans died annually from cardiovascular disease. Since then, scientists and public health professionals have developed medicines and advanced prevention strategies that have revolutionized the way we treat cardiovascular disease. We now know so much more about cardiovascular disease thanks to information from long-term research projects such as the Framingham Heart Study, which is still being conducted today with its third generation of participants. This information is used to detect disease sooner and inform the public about preventative steps they can take to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The study has sparked and kindles innovation in medical technology and treatment, and inspires continued determination to achieve continuous improvement in cardiovascular outcomes.
Now, the survival rate for individuals with cardiovascular disease has increased by more than 62%. These innovations help save lives, like Grace’s, whose heart stopped suddenly while at home, just two days after her high school graduation. Grace was rushed to the ER, diagnosed with sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), and received surgery to implant a defibrillator to prevent future arrests.
Nearly eight years later, Grace is a vibrant student in her final year of medical school, and is a tenacious advocate for first responder training and medical research. In the words of Grace, “My survival from SCA is considered a miracle. However, with medical research and clinical trials, we have the power to turn ‘miracle’ survivals into standard practice.”
We all have loved ones in our lives that we shouldn’t have to lose prematurely due to diseases and conditions that can be prevented. Imagine a world where our Thanksgiving tables reflect the bounty scientific research and innovation, coupled with public health diligence, provides. We can — with funding that allows researchers, innovators, and the public health workforce as a whole the ability to speed progress against health threats that rob of us quality of life, hope and time.
Research!America is a nonprofit alliance that works day in and day out to make the case for faster medical and public health progress. We fight for lifesaving science and a rock solid public health system, the bedrock of progress against deadly and debilitating health threats. Unless policymakers hear from advocates that faster progress deserves to be a top national priority, it will be sidelined, squandering the potential to save lives. This year, when you consider what you’re thankful for, please include a gift that benefits us all – a gift to support research-fueled hope.
Stephanie Sawicki, MPH
Research!America Intern and Communications Associate