NIH Pressed to Base Disease Funding on Mortality Rates
Some lawmakers and health advocates are pressuring Congress to base funding for disease research on mortality, an effort that would "sharply reduce" HIV/AIDS research funding if successful, the Washington Times reports. AIDS-related diseases were responsible for the deaths of just over 15,000 Americans last year, and NIH has an AIDS research budget of $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2002. By contrast, although nearly 710,000 Americans died from heart disease last year, NIH's FY 2002 budget for heart disease research is $1.9 billion. Diabetes, breast cancer, Alzheimer's disease, prostate cancer and lung cancer each "outstrip AIDS in terms of deaths" but "lag far behind" in funding, the Times reports. Critics of the current funding structure note that AIDS continues to receive a large proportion of research dollars even though AIDS-related deaths began "plummeting" six years ago. Dr. Richard Darling, a California dentist who has launched a Web site to lobby for a system that determines disease funding based on mortality, said, "The entire allocation system is outrageously biased toward AIDS. The system is extremely unfair to heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate disease, Alzheimer's and leukemia." But CDC spokesperson Jessica Frickey noted that 950,000 Americans are estimated to be HIV-positive and HIV infects approximately 40,000 people in the United States every year. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, added that the number of new HIV infections has not decreased over the past decade. He said that many people who die of AIDS-related causes are young, and AIDS "is still a relatively 'new challenge,'" especially in the developing world. These factors show that AIDS research should continue to receive a high level of funding, Fauci said (Price, Washington Times, 4/22).