Health conditions

Coronavirus: Disease groups lose research funding

Written by Diane Archer

Stat News reports that disease organizations have lost a significant amount of their research funding since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Americans rely on disease groups to undertake critical research, which is now at risk. For the public good, the government should invest more in critical research just as it should guarantee everyone affordable health care.

Americans who support disease organizations often do not realize that most of these organizations are pawns of the pharmaceutical industry and other for-profit health care corporations. They tend to support research when it is valuable both to patients and to the health care industry. For that reason, they don’t always support the research that is needed and they don’t tend to support guaranteed universal health care.

Disease organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association have gained notoriety among advocates and researchers alike for their failure to support reforms that would lower the price of prescription drugs. They also are not allies in the fight for guaranteed health care for all. These reforms, which would help their members, are not in sync with the wishes of their corporate funders.

With a loss of financial support in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, disease organizations have needed to lay off workers and cut programs. The American Cancer Society responded to a 30 percent revenue loss by laying off 1,ooo workers. JDRF, formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, has been forced to lay off 4o percent of its staff and rethink how it functions. It is going from 60 chapters to 29 chapters. And, it plans to rely more on volunteer help.

A lot of private medical research might stop and that jeopardizes the well-being of millions of Americans living with a chronic condition. What’s not evident is the extent to which research funded by disease organizations helped the for-profit health care sector and the extent it helped patients.

Often new medical treatments are prohibitively expensive. Treatments don’t work if people can’t afford them. Moreover, some suggest that the health care industry looks to support lifelong treatments over one-time cures, as a means to ensure ongoing revenue, which is certainly not in our best interest.

Right now, it would help all Americans if disease organizations pivoted and focused on guaranteed universal health care on behalf of their members. The majority of the public supports that aim.

Time will tell how the health care priorities of disease groups evolve. They might rely more heavily on corporate dollars from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. This would mean bigger conflicts of interest for these groups. Some could end up promoting industry interests over patient interests even more than they have in the past. Will Congress step in and appropriate adequate funding for critical patient-centered research?

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