Monday, October 15, 2007

One War We Are Winning

There was good news from one war today – the War on Cancer declared by Richard Nixon in 1971. The mortality rate for leading cancers is dropping and for a number of reasons: prevention, early detection, better treatment, and nagging by those national nannies that conservatives hate. That’s a simple, but fair, reading of what today’s numbers from the National Cancer Institute reveal.

Of course, there is more to the story.

For one thing, even fewer people would die from lung, colon, prostate and breast cancers if they only had access to health care in the first place.

For another thing, the progress in prevention, detection and treatment was due in very large part to federal investment in research, mostly through the National Institutes of Health along with several other agencies. From 1999 to 2003, Congress doubled the funding for the NIH, which now has a budget of $28 billion, most of which is filtered through 325,000 researchers and more than 3,000 universities and other research institutions in all 50 states and around the world.

However, since 2003, funding for the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy has flattened, and gone down when you take inflation into account. How can this happen? Two reasons: 1) Bush’s trillion-dollar march to Armageddon and 2) public apathy about the need for political pressure to keep those laboratories and scientists discovering cures.

The other front-page news today was that American generals believe that the Al Qaeda franchise in Iraq has been crippled. Clearly, then, our troops can come now (no WMD, Saddam hanged, democracy in Iraq a pipedream and a stable government an oxymoron, Al Qaeda defeated) and it is the War on Cancer that needs a surge lest this week's word of medical triumph becomes a blip instead of a trend.

Disclosure: My wife is an employee of the NIH, and my largest consulting client advocates in Congress and elsewhere for more federal research spending.

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