Beating Heart Disease: No. 1 Killer Suffers Lack of Proper Funding

Article excerpt

Shelley Widhalm is a staff writer for The Washington Times.

Pink ribbons remind women of breast cancer, and the Red Dress Pin is doing the job for the nation's No. 1 killer, heart disease.

"Not too many years ago, we thought of heart disease as a disease of middle-aged men," says Dr. Stuart Seides, associate director of cardiology at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. "A very different human face has been put on heart disease. I think that's what shakes the dollars out of the rafters."

NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and partner organizations are sponsoring the Heart Truth campaign this year with pins and free risk-factor screenings to increase women's awareness of a disease that, according to the American Heart Association, claims the lives of up to a half-million women a year.

Government agencies and private institutions fund research, treatment, or prevention of diseases whether or not they receive the limelight or are a top cause of death. The top causes in 2001, after heart disease, included cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and diabetes, as identified by the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

Several health professionals say funding amounts lag behind the needs for these top diseases, pointing to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which remain among the top 10 causes of death, they say.

"Funding priorities are not based on simple raw numbers of death," says Dorraine Watts, who holds a doctorate in biostatistics and research design. She is also the executive director of research for Inova Health System at Fairfax Inova Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia. "You have to look at which groups are dying, but you also have to look at which groups are affected."

Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the CDC in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) come from Congress, which sets funding priorities and amounts for the two agencies.

NIH distributes research funds according to the number of people who have and who die from each type of disease, the degree of disability a disease causes, its potential danger to public health, and its associated economic and social costs. The agency funds medical and behavioral research to help diagnose and treat disease and disability.

Alternatively, CDC focuses funding on protecting people's health and safety and providing disease prevention and control. The agency distributes funds based on the causes of death from diseases and infections, the rate they can spread, the likelihood they can be treated and prevented, and the access to care for underserved populations at risk.

"We are, of course, interested in and work on the things that are currently causing illness, disability and death," says Dr. Dixie Snider, acting deputy director for public health science at CDC, which is based in Atlanta. "We also have to think about what has been and what could ... potentially happen that we need to prepare for."

Heart disease, the top cause of death and disability among Americans, receives less funding from CDC and NIH than do several other diseases, including cancer, infectious diseases, and AIDS/HIV, though heart disease is the No. 1 killer across all genders, age groups, and races, Seides says. "There's a mismatch between the funding for research and the incidence and importance of cardiovascular disease, both locally and nationally," he says. …