Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to go to the roundtable, "Global Health Crises: How Scientists Can Shape Policy," which was organized by one of my friends. Dr. Bob was one of the four speakers at this event, and it prompted me to consider what the responsibilities of scientists are to contribute towards public policy. The panelists mentioned several times that the government often plays catch up from science, especially since most government officials have little to no background in science. This highlights a fundamental setback of the political system; many important decisions are made by politicians, and it is the responsibility of scientists to provide as much information as possible to inform those with decision-making power correctly. The government actually gets its information from the National Academy of Sciences; you can read more here about this body, which calls upon researchers and scholars from several disciplines, to share their research. http://www.nasonline.org/about-nas/mission/. Over 6,000 experts work, on a volunteer basis, to provide the scientific background behind some of the most pressing social issues with scientific backgrounds. The question is -- is this enough to make the most informed decisions?
Another particularly interesting point from the panel was the funding disparities between different national and international healthcare bodies. The panelists mentioned that Stanford hospital has a higher budget than the WHO; the same follows for the CDC. The budget disparity is multiple-fold, and this controls the impact that these institutions are able to make. Dr. Michele Barry noted that the WHO is "broke" or "broken," especially because funding sources dictate their research interests. Institutions like the WHO have so much international pressure from the public to respond to crises, but because of their lack of budget and personnel, they are limited to act as an advising body rather than a responding body. I took some time to look up the WHO budget for 2014-2015; the total proposed program budget for this two year span is 3.977 billion US dollars. Their funding sources are divided between various priorities, including communicable diseases, noncommunicable diseases, health through the life-course, health systems, preparedness/ surveillance/ response, corporate services / enabling functions, and emergencies. From 2012-2013 to 2014-2015, there was actually a 7.9% decrease in funding in communicable diseases, which include a lot of viral diseases (like Ebola). The bud
If you're interested in reading more about the budget, here is the official PDF of the funding distribution. Within this report, there is a lot of information regarding the deliverables and targets of the WHO, which prompts the question of how all of that can be achieved to obtain the best health outcomes given a constricted budget. http://www.who.int/about/resources_planning/PB14-15_en.pdf?ua=1
Overall, the panel really prompted me to think about the duties of scientists, beyond the space of their own research, to contribute to the world of policy research and development. It is critical that those in positions to make important decisions are informed enough to allocate funding and working power towards solving the health crises of today and tomorrow.