April 10, 2003

NIH is not for Americans

I was browsing through Feedster.com and did a search for "HIV" hoping to find interesting (maybe esoteric) news or blogs from those doing HIV research. I happened to stumble upon this blog: Joshua Claybourn's Domain: HIV/AIDS vs. Cancer. His blog gives me the opportunity to provide a perspective into this debate that some of you might not have--seeing that HIV research is a field in which I am studying; it also gives me an opportunity to test this TrackBack feature that MovableType developed. Let me get straight to the point--I support the amount of HIV research spending that the NIH invests. I do not support it because of selfish reasons like the survival of my career, but if you give me a chance, I'll present other (hopefully convincing) reasons why I support it. If you look through my CV, you'll see that I've worked at the NIH as an undergraduate. Having worked on the NIH campus it became quickly apparent that many of the scientists themselves were NOT Americans. Many post-docs come to the US to train in the American scientific process euphemistically speaking; in actuality, they and their American counterparts are cheap labor and a large mine of intellectual property, but this is another topic itself that I will not get into in this blog. The same proportion of non-American scientists can be found in just about all academic institutions that acquire funds from the NIH. Why do I mention this (I admit yes, it's anecdotal) observation, when the topic of discussion is HIV vs. cancer spending? Hear me out and I'll clear everything up for you.
HIV is a GLOBAL threat. It is not much of a devastating disease in the US because, for the most part, it is manageable due to the ability of patients to afford the cocktail of medications required to keep it in check.
Those who divvy out US taxpayers' dollars to research certain diseases have changed their mode of thought from "diseases that devastate Americans" to "diseases that devastate everyone." Although many taxpayers are oblivious to this fact. Being the only superpower left in this world, the US has not only political responsibilities (witness the current situation in Iraq), but responsibilities for world health--this is the primary reason why US tax dollars must be spent in this manner. So throw out all the statistics of dollars spent per American per disease! Look at the statistics published by the UN and the WHO. HIV is ravishing Africa, Asia, and South America. I don't have the statistics on hand, but look at the numbers released by UNAIDS. It's also a fact that the number of HIV infections are on the rise in the US in certain cities--mind you, this is at a time when education spending is high; I highlight infections because although the number of individuals in the US dying of AIDS has dropped, the infection rate is rising--these two markers are not correlative. So the argument that HIV is a preventable disease through education is weak.
It is also apparent that education spending in places like Africa, although it will yield benefits, will not be enough to keep the spread of the disease in check. Couple this issue with the fact that many Africans cannot afford the drugs to manage the disease, and you have a crisis in your hands. I can guarantee you that HIV (and probably malaria as well) is killing more people in Africa than cancer. Again, the same can be said in parts of Asia and Central/South America. Hence, my argument is that more research must be done to find cheaper, better ways to keep HIV in check--hopefully, a vaccine one day.
No longer must we, Americans, believe that NIH should spend research money according to US needs. Our responsibilities are much more vast than just the 50 States. NIH spends research dollars for diseases that are global, and spends it by paying the salaries of not just Americans, but scientists from other countries as well. This is the new American way--teaching foreigners our way of science. When we see our neighbors in other countries sick, dying, and imprisoned we need to remember the story of Christ who will ask us at the gates of heaven: "when I was sick and in prison--where were you? Did you visit me?" The NIH spends the money for diseases that afflicts all humans because it represents us, each US citizen, and allows us to answer God back with a resounding YES.

Posted by johnvu at April 10, 2003 12:12 AM
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