Advocating better, together

Published June 29 2016

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members spend their lives dedicated to understanding the underlying mechanisms of diseases that affect the lives of millions of Americans. Advocating on behalf of their work and the work of all biomedical researchers is an honor for me. In recent months, our message about the need for increased federal support for the National Institutes of Health has gained traction. Lawmakers are better at understanding the role the NIH plays in supporting the nation’s biomedical research enterprise, and members from both political parties are publicly expressing support for increasing federal investments. Last year’s $2 billion increase in funding for the NIH serves as an example of this support, and overwhelming passage of the 21st Century Cures Act last summer provides us with more proof that there is political will to support the NIH.

Manifesting the words of politicians into deeds — and dollars — remains the challenge of all advocates. We advocates often work together, fine-tuning our message to build momentum on Capitol Hill to support our members. As a member of the board of directors of the Coalition for Health Funding I took part in a series of meetings with lawmakers in May that sought to break down some of the traditional silos that health and science advocates find themselves in. On that day, I was joined by advocates for disease groups, public health professionals and social scientists. We called on members of Congress to recognize how they must invest in the full continuum of health and science agencies — from the NIH to the Food and Drug Administration to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — if we are going to make measurable improvements to public health.

Some lawmakers already have connected these dots and are helping to spread our message to their colleagues. U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Gene Green, D-Texas, formed the Public Health Caucus in the House of Representatives last year. Caucuses are, for lack of a better descriptor, clubs in which like-minded members of Congress come together and discuss the variety of issues that affect a specific topic. The Public Health Caucus will raise awareness of public health issues and, perhaps more importantly, provide educational opportunities for lawmakers to learn more about what public health means.

When announcing the formation of the Public Health Caucus, co-chairs Wittman and Green succinctly outlined why a joint effort like this is so important. Wittman told reporters that “the field of public health is dedicated to awareness and prevention, and this caucus will be a fantastic tool to raise awareness among members and congressional staff about how public health issues can impact their districts. We must do more to reduce the cost of health care in America, and, by focusing our legislative efforts on prevention and public health, Congress can help to rein in costs in the future.” Green added, “Investing in public health has led to increased life expectancies, reductions of infectious and communicable diseases, swift response to emergencies and improved health outcomes for our communities.”

Since its inception, the caucus has grown to 19 members, with groups like the Coalition for Health Funding working to make more lawmakers aware of this caucus. Explaining the critical role basic research plays in the full public health continuum is a logical and needed step in continuing to bolster support for the funding scientists so desperately need.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.