Congressional Myopia: Without Support for Research, There Will Be No Medical Breakthroughs
Many in the scientific community lament that the purchasing power of the National Institutes for Health has decreased 25 percent over the past decade. Despite the economic (not to mention lifesaving) benefits of medical research, our Congressional leadership has not stepped up to ensure the future: “We wish we could, but we simply cannot make this a priority.” It’s a startling example of political myopia — valuing short term savings over long-term commitment and an investment in greatness.
Consider the economic and social impact of medical breakthroughs: In 1976, a 34-year-old Harvard medical school graduate, Alfred Sommer, conducted research in Indonesia and discovered that deficiencies in vitamin A could make children blind and fatally susceptible to infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhea.
Sommer devised a simple treatment approach–provide vitamin A pills to children–and achieved staggering results. Two cents’ worth of vitamin A administered twice a year reduced childhood mortality in these developing countries by a third. UNICEF estimates that since its launch in the 1990s, the vitamin A supplement campaign has saved 10 million children from blindness and death.
The World Bank has emphasized how cost effective this medical intervention is–estimating that every dollar invested in supplementation yields more than $100 in economic return.
Sommer’s life-saving discovery was produced at a time (in the 1980s-1990s) when support for biomedical research and its researchers was robust. In the 1980s, a dedicated young scientist could conduct global research and then find the training and support to turn passion and curiosity into a viable career path. Unlike today when researchers struggle to identify consistent research funding, this was a time of promise and opportunity and the pay-offs to humankind were big.