But then, that’s the way politics and foreign policy often sound. Odd.
The U.S., which pays for something like 70 percent of the costs of researching and developing new drugs, this week at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva opposed creating a mechanism requiring other nations to pay more — a fair share.
In short, the Obama Administration opposed a plan to reduce our disproportionate spending on drug development.
The Seattle City Council hopes fewer government regulations and lower taxation on federal research dollars brought into the city will save lives, here and abroad.
The council introduced legislation last week it hopes will strengthen the growing life science industry in Seattle.
The legislation, CB 117438, will waive city business and occupation taxes on government research funds by allowing a deduction for grants, contracts and sub-awards received as compensation towards the support of life science research and development.
On Tuesday, a group of some 40 global health organizations that calls itself the Global Health Technologies Coalition issued a report that found global health technologies “are among the best investments US policymakers can make” and warned that budget cuts to global health threaten to undermine progress made to date — and also will threaten lives worldwide.
I’d generally agree with this, and have written plenty here on Humanosphere about the threat federal budget cuts pose to the global fight against AIDS, malaria and other diseases of poverty. But is it really about making the case for research, for new technologies?
I wonder how convincing it will be for these organizations that want more money for their particular projects to be issuing a ‘study’ that discovers what they do is incredibly important and invaluable. Unlike the American biomedical industry — which does the same kind of lobbying — these are not research projects aimed at addressing our problems.
This new advocacy group is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and “housed” at PATH, both of which are often criticized for taking too much of a ‘techno-fix’ approach to global health.
Global health research ideally is aimed at finding better ways to fight diseases many Americans either haven’t heard of or don’t think is their problem. This is, or should be, ultimately about fighting poverty and helping the poor overseas.
Perhaps the case that needs to be made is more fundamental than just clamoring for more funding of research.
Here are some media reports based on the coalition’s event in Washington, D.C., yesterday:
Col. Christian Ockenhouse, director of malaria vaccine research at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, shows how volunteers are infected with malaria -- by holding their forearms over a container holding five malaria-infected mosquitoes. The container is covered with a mesh, allowing the mosquitoes to bite the volunteers.
Malaria has always been a problem for soldiers. Roman legions had to contend with it. So did George Washington’s troops. Civil War battles were won and lost because of it. And it was a huge problem in the South Pacific during World War II….
The center’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, housed for the past decade on its own campus in Maryland, just outside Washington, is one of the world’s premier research centers for infectious diseases.
No other place has done as much to prevent and treat malaria. And certainly, no one has done it so cheaply.
The U.S. Army’s medical center may be closing, but the military’s leading role in malaria research will continue under new reorganization.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s role in the malaria research field — primarily at Seattle Biomed, which has a strong partnership with many scientists at Walter Reed — appears likely to continue to grow.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the world’s leading funders in the battle to defeat malaria, which is both a good and bad thing.
To give an overview of the progress against malaria to date, the Gates Foundation has posted on its website this global map of malaria showing country-by-country how many deaths are estimated to have been prevented through the increased distribution of bednets and insecticides. Go to link, below is a screen grab only.
So how could it be a bad thing for the Seattle philanthropy to be one of the leading sources of funding for the fight against malaria? As this article in TropIKA.net notes, some are concerned that malaria funding has become too concentrated on select research priorities set by a handful of organizations:
(M)alaria R&D funding must be more efficiently distributed. At present, the majority of funding goes toward drug development (38 per cent), vaccines (28 per cent) and basic research (23 per cent). Diagnostics and vector control development account for a mere five percent combined. While that disparity reflects differences in development costs, it also underscores a yawning gap in funding for diagnostics.
Between 2007 and 2009, just two organizations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH)—provided half of the global malaria R&D funding and were responsible for 85 percent of the global increase in malaria funding, with the Gates Foundation leading the way. The latter provided 30 percent of global funding in 2009.
The Gates Foundation also provided more than three-quarters of funding for malaria product development partnerships (PDPs) in 2008-2009, allowing the latter to play a central role in product development. According to the report, PDPs managed around one quarter of all malaria R&D funding, nearly 40 percent of global grant funding and half of all drug and vaccine projects in the global malaria R&D pipeline.
The solution, of course, is not for the Gates Foundation to reduce its support for select programs. It’s for the rest of the international community to increase and diversity funding for malaria interventions and research.
There’s a lot of discussion out there today about how to create “sustainable” health system improvements in many African nations with regard to preventing disease and providing health care — as opposed to just flying in Western do-gooders to come in with a campaign targeted at combating a single illness or fixing a specific problem.
The same problem exists with respect to efforts aimed at building up Africa’s scientific research base.
Mamdani claims Western NGOs like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which he singles out for its approach to malaria research) have been pushing African universities to adopt a “consultancy culture” focused on supporting mostly market-driven initiatives rather than creating a truly independent academic culture:
Today, the market-driven model is dominant in African universities. The consultancy culture it has nurtured has had negative consequences for postgraduate education and research. Consultants presume that research is all about finding answers to problems defined by a client. They think of research as finding answers, not as formulating a problem.
I question Mamdani’s singular focus on the Gates Foundation, and am not sure I agree with what he says is wrong with its malaria research strategy, but I think he and Freschi raise some very important issues and concerns here.
You might think that working in medical research, however important the task, involves a lot of long, laborious and even tedious work bent over a microscope and petri dishes.
Apparently not, at least for UW scientist Greg Crowther. Here’s Crowther’s rapping grant application seeking more funding to support the malaria research done in the UW laboratory run by Dr. Wes Van Voorhis. (I’m told this video was actually funded by the National Science Foundation, as part of an effort to popularize science).
This isn’t Crowther’s first stab at communicating science through music videos. Here’s one I especially like that he did about the structure of muscle fibers with help from his colleagues at Science Groove.
A new drug, derived from Chinese wormwood, is being hailed as more effective than quinine for treating children with life-threatening malaria.
In today’s Lancet online, scientists followed nearly 5,500 children hospitalized for severe malaria at 11 health centers in nine African countries. The children (under age 15) received two forms of intravenous treatment — traditional quinine or the Chinese drug artesunate (based on the wormwood derivative artemisinin).
The children receiving the Chinese drug were 23 percent less likely to die, the study found.
As described in a news article by Science magazine, many Asian countries have already switched to artesunate — a move the World Health Organization recommended be adopted globally for adults in 2006. But most malaria deaths are in children, the Sydney Morning Herald notes, and this drug should be routine for children as well.