The Honorable Paul G. Rogers Remarks at the Fogarty Strategic Planning Stakeholder Conference - Dec. 12, 2006

Fogarty Strategic Planning Stakeholder Conference

NIH - Stone House
December 12, 2006

I am inspired by the work of the Fogarty International Center and that of everyone in this room. It is a great honor and privilege for me to be here today to speak with you about global health research. I believe it is the best investment we can make in our future and the future of everyone everywhere.

In preparing my remarks for this evening my thoughts took me back a few years to my colleague Congressman John Fogarty who like all of us here today was a strong advocate for medical research and global health.

I'd like to read you some of his words from 1959 captured forever in the Congressional record: "Time and time again it has been demonstrated that the goal of better health has the capacity to demolish geographic and political boundaries and to enter the hearts and minds of men, women and children in the four corners of the earth. It is an issue which serves as a forceful reminder of the oneness the essential brotherhood of man."

His words are as relevant and alive with meaning today as they were two generations ago when the world was a much smaller and less complicated place.

Investing our nation's resources to improve the health of everyone on the planet is a task that unites us -- policymakers and scientists -- for self-interest and humanitarian reasons. It is the smart thing to do for America; it is the right thing to do for the world.

The need to act has never been more urgent. I am deeply affected by the devastating illnesses with the names we have come to recognize malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and those with names that are mostly unfamiliar, but share the pain and suffering of those I just mentioned: snail fever, hookworm, and river blindness. All of these are stealing the lives of too many mothers, fathers and children.

Since John Fogarty's words of nearly 50 years ago, today's global health landscape has new and equally disturbing features. New and emerging infections like SARS frightened the world a few years ago. This new infection was unknown to the general public one day and was the lead story for the print and electronic media the next.

Progress, I am sad to say has given us more than the internet and wireless technology. The headline of a recent story in the New York Times caught my attention "Modern Ways Open India's Doors to Diabetes." The director of an Indian hospital for diabetes was quoted in this story as saying, "Diabetes, unfortunately, is the price you pay for progress." With approximately 35 million cases of diabetes in India, this price tag for progress is one that we cannot and must not pay. I am troubled by this dark legacy of progress - tobacco, obesity, cancer, heart disease, to name just a few.

The challenges are indeed great. You, however, are even greater! As I look at each one of you, our scientists, I am full of hope! Why? Because research gives us hope! The American people feel this way, too. Americans respect you, they have confidence in you and they support your work in global health.

They know that investing in global health research is the smart thing to do for America. They know it is the right thing to do for the world. Just a month ago, Research!America polled the American public on issues related to global health and global health research. Eighty (80%) of Americans believe it is important for the U.S. to work to improve health globally. About three-quarters (71%) of Americans believe that the U.S. spends too little on medical and health research designed to improve health around the world.

Speaking from very personal experience, respecting the views of Americans is at the top of the list of every member of Congress. Unlike some issues, health is everyone's concern. There is no red state or blue state for good health. Support for health cuts across party lines. The promise of better health speaks to everyone; the promise of research.

You are the promise of research. You are the hope. You have the ability to capture the minds and hearts of the public and help them understand the value of global health research. You know yourself as a researcher, but now I want you to think of yourself as a storyteller. Telling stories is crucial to advocacy. I have learned so much from Dr. Roger Glass [Director, Fogarty International Center, NIH]. He told me that the Pedialyte that has been so important in my grandchildren's lives is directly connected to the oral rehydration therapy done abroad. Tell these stories! Congress needs to hear these stories. Americans need to hear these stories. The media would be interested to hear more stories like this.

The new [Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research] Ambassadors for global health research, including three here tonight, Dr. Dick Guerrant from the University of Virginia, Dr. Peter Hotez from George Washington University and Dr. Sten Vermund from Vanderbilt will be telling their stories. They will be leading the charge, this very first class of Ambassadors! They will be telling their members of Congress, their community leaders and the media why global health research is important and why the U.S. should be doing more! They will be putting a face on their research. They will tell their own stories. I am so proud of them!

There is another reason to tell your stories. Many of America's friendships abroad have suffered a bruising. Some are seriously damaged. America's best scientists are also America's diplomatic corps.

Science has a long history in working behind the scenes during times of political conflict. This work can also be done out in the open, and be done for all the right reasons. Just two years ago, after our USNS Mercy ship made its humanitarian mission to help the people of Indonesia, public opinion polls in those areas reported soaring positive impressions of America! This is the kind of thing that is the smart thing to do for America and the right thing to do for the world.

As I stand before you this evening, I speak with the experience that comes from the long view of what is possible. From my 24 years in Congress, chairing the House Committee on Health and the Environment, as an attorney in Washington devoting much of my time on policy and issues related to research and health, as a trustee of non-profit organizations dedicated to research and health, and lastly, as a citizen, a husband, a father and grandfather, I can look across the bow and be inspired by the promise that you bring - the promise of research, the promise of hope.

At this time in history we need a common place to connect. That place is the universal concern for our children, the concern for our families. If there was ever a time when this was needed, it is now. Conduct your work with honor. Embrace the highest scientific values of collegiality and collaboration. Great ideas can spring from anywhere - that is the celebration of our common humanity and our common genius.

You are living the vision that most of us can only imagine. Tell your stories, engage the public, and engage your policymakers. Celebrate research. Make the world a better place. Together, I know we will.

Thank you.

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