Where does this leave American science, including research for health, with its dual benefits of saving lives and driving the economy? Clearly not in a good place. How long can we ride on our long and hard-earned position as the world’s leader in the health sciences? Just recall the fate of the auto industry or consumer electronics of a few short decades ago and you know that the #1 status doesn’t necessarily last forever. Where will the next health-related industry be based? The biotech industry is American-bred and American-led; it’s no longer to be assumed that this kind of boost to the economy and to better health and quality of life will happen in the U.S.
Many Americans have what history might end up terming a realistic view of our future in the sciences and capacity to improve health care delivery through research. I think it’s sobering to know that about 40% of likely U.S. voters believe that the health care services they receive are based on the best and most recent research available, according to Research!America’s recent national public opinion poll. Even more troubling, only 19% believe elected officials in Washington are paying enough attention to combating the many deadly diseases that afflict Americans. This is just a snapshot of the deep concerns among voters about where we’re headed in the coming years and even in the coming months. And that’s why an overwhelming majority say it is important for candidates to state their views on medical and health research and have science advisors. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds say the next president should announce initiatives promoting medical progress in his first 100 days in office. Yet many candidates have been relatively silent on this issue, failing to address it in speeches, materials and the torrent of campaign advertisements.
We know that research has transformed our quality of life, dramatically improved treatments and in some cases found cures for deadly and disabling diseases over the years. HIV is no longer a death sentence, polio is no longer with us, indeed nearly eradicated from the earth, biomedical innovations in the form of new drugs, devices and procedures have increased longevity and because of public health research, we have effective prevention strategies to reduce cardiovascular disease and tobacco use but we still have many health challenges, such as Alzheimer’s, that will require extensive and innovative research to save lives and ease the burden of millions who suffer from the disease and their loved ones.
That’s why, in this election season, it’s more important than ever for candidates and elected officials to inform voters about where they stand on federal support for research. Do they believe research fuels the economy? Do they believe research to improve health will reduce health care costs? Do they support making research for health a higher national priority? Voters deserve to know. We need more champions for research and the only way to ensure that resources are not diminished is to drive home the point that a greater investment in research and innovation will yield many tangible results – for the economy, for improvements in population health and for our global competitiveness.
Woolley is president and CEO of Research!America. For more information visit www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org.