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Preserving NIH’s Fogarty International Center crucial for global health efforts

May. 26, 2017, 10:34 AM

This week Douglas Heimburger, M.D., M.S., professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt, joined a growing chorus calling for preservation of the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In Wednesday’s New England Journal of Medicine, Heimburger and colleagues from Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington in Seattle write that the center, which supports global health research and training worldwide, is “a valuable and effective scientific and diplomatic investment.”

The proposed federal FY18 budget, released on Tuesday, would eliminate the Fogarty International Center’s $70 million budget, although it would add $25 million to the Office of the NIH Director to coordinate global health research across the agency.

The proposal has drawn protests from across the nation’s scientific and medical communities. On Thursday, a heavily attended webinar highlighted the role that the Fogarty International Center plays in detecting and preventing outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola from becoming widespread pandemics.

The webinar was hosted by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the advocacy group Research!America.

Heimburger, associate director for education and training in the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, directs the institute’s education and training programs for Vanderbilt students and trainees, as well as research training opportunities for doctoral and postdoctoral trainees from other institutions and other countries.

Heimburger also is co-principal investigator of a $1.5 million grant awarded by the Fogarty International Center in 2015 to train researchers in Zambia in the nutritional complications of long-term HIV infection. Grants like these are critical to helping developing countries build their own public health and research capacities, he said.

In their column in the New England Journal, Heimburger and colleagues Paul Drain, M.D., MPH, from the University of Washington, and Ramnath Subbaraman, M.D., from Harvard, argue that the benefits of the Fogarty Center far outweigh its economic cost.

“Its closure would not only be detrimental for global health but would also affect the health of Americans and impede training of U.S. scientists,” they write.

Research supported by the center includes efforts to improve the prevention of stroke, treat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, identify new cancer drugs and prevent the distribution of dangerous “fake drugs” the many Americans purchase unwittingly.

The center “has been instrumental in extending the frontiers of health research around the globe,” Heimburger and his colleagues conclude. Preserving its mission “represents a critical investment in the health of the American people as well as the global community.”

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