National security includes protecting our public health.
NIH research protects us from deadly pandemics and bioterrorism that know no national borders and threaten the health and safety of all Americans. Effective disease surveillance, treatments, and prevention methods are direct results of NIH investments.
As recent outbreaks of pandemic flu, Ebola, and Zika have shown, Americans are more likely to die from an outbreak of disease than from a terrorist attack. Research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) protects our health and national security.
Global pandemics threaten American health, safety, readiness and strength
Zika is a virus is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Zika can be transmitted from an infected pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy, and can result in serious birth defects, including microcephaly. Less commonly, the virus can be spread through intercourse or blood transfusion.
NIH-funded researchers are working with partners in government, academia, and the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to better understand Zika, the diseases it causes, and how to treat and prevent it.
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The 2014 Ebola outbreak was the largest in history, affecting the United States, United Kingdom, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Spain, and Italy. The effects of Ebola were profound and widespread, with an estimated 11,316 fatalities and a cost of $5.8 billion. Thanks to intensive work through NIH to develop new Ebola vaccine candidates and a robust international response, as of March 2016 the World Health Organization certified the end of the Ebola epidemic.
NIH-funded scientists have studied the Ebola virus since its discovery in 1976 and now have a better understanding of how Ebola initially infects people, how it is transmitted from person to person, and the symptoms of the virus. Due to the 2014 epidemic, NIH accelerated an early-stage clinical trial to test the safety of a candidate Ebola vaccine in humans.
NIH Director Francis Collins said, “We have steadily pursued [a vaccine for Ebola] over these last 13 years, hoping that by the time a big outbreak occurred we would be ready for it…But I have to tell you, if we had not gone through this 10-year decline in the support of biomedical research, we would be ahead of where we are now.”
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Influenza (“the flu”) is one of the deadliest threats to the United States. Over the course of our history, the flu has taken more lives than have been lost on the bloodiest battlefield.
Each year, doctors and scientists make their best guess as to which strain of influenza will be the most likely to strike that season, then they create and stockpiles those vaccines. But they often guess wrong. So even if individuals get their “flu shot” they can still get sick from a different strain of the flu. As a result, tens of thousands of Americans die of flu each year.
NIH is working to develop a universal flu vaccine that would defend against all strains of the virus – making annual flu shots a thing of the past and saving millions of lives around the world.
But research on the universal flu vaccine has gone slower than researchers would like due to flat or stagnant NIH funding. Restoring NIH funding means more efficient, expeditious work toward a vaccine that could protect us from debilitating and deadly flu viruses.
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The HIV/AIDS crisis is a stark example of how disease can profoundly destabilize societies. As members of the global workforce succumb to AIDS-related illnesses, it disrupts households, families, workplaces, and communities -- reducing income levels and weakening economies. In 2014, 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related causes. Currently, there are an estimated 36.9 million people globally who are living with HIV.
NIH-supported research has been central to advancing new treatments for HIV infection and AIDS-associated infections, as well as developing and testing HIV vaccines and other preventive measures. Thanks to NIH-funded research, there are now more than 30 FDA-approved HIV drugs, turning what was once a fatal disease into a manageable chronic condition for many people.
HIV vaccine research continues thanks to NIH funding, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV has significantly decreased – fewer than 200 children are now born each year in the U.S. with HIV infection.
Investing in NIH defends against terrorism
The United States invests heavily in biodefense research against terrorist attacks with pathogenic microbes or toxins.
New research conducted and funded by NIH on anthrax, caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, is improving how to prevent and treat this infection. NIH-funded researchers are uncovering the molecular pathways of how the bacterium forms spores, survives in people, and causes illness – research that could lead to new vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tools.
The anthrax attacks in 2001 raised the possibility that variola, the virus that causes smallpox, might re-emerge as an agent of bioterrorism. That prompted NIH to award a contract for the development and clinical testing of an anti-variola compound that has been demonstrated to be safe and well tolerated in humans.
These are just two examples of how NIH-funded research protects American citizens from bioterrorism.
Restoring our nation’s investment in these kinds of research
protects the health of the American people and the national security of the United States.