Ever since I started my blog, I wanted to “republish” this small section of James Hirsch’s fair and honest book, “Cheating Destiny: Living with Diabetes.”
Hirsch writes about the many researchers, scientists, doctors and advocates who are still working on “conquering” but maybe not “curing” diabetes. Of course, money is one issue. Ronald Kahn of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston has tried to calculate the government’s neglect of diabetes research funding. More than 20 million Americans have diabetes, Type 1 and 2, which translates to about 7 to 8 percent of the total U.S. population.
Dr. Denise Faustman, a veteran diabetes researcher, made Wall Street Journal Headlines in 2006 in a story titled: “Confirming Hope on Diabetes: A Controversial Therapy for Diabetes Is Verified.” Her story is included in Hirsch’s book.
Consider these stats about our country’s lack of public support for a growing diabetic epidemic.
- Public spending on diabetes is about $50 per diabetic, based on 2007 financial data.
- The average cost of care per diabetic — what you spend on medicine, equipment, etc — is between $10,000 and $20,000.
- 32 percent of the nation’s Medicare budget is spent on people with diabetes.
- Since 1980, the NIH budget for diabetes has increased by 240 percent to $1.1 billion.
- NIH total expenditures have grown by 261 percent, thus the percentage allocated for diabetes has declined as the number of diabetics has doubled.
- In 2004, the NIH spent about $68 for each diabetic compared to $16,936 for each patient with West Nile virus.
“Our investment in the future, the future of all these people, amounts to less than half of one percent of what we’re spending on the disease,” Kahn told Hirsch, adding that even the tire industry spends at least 3 percent of its sales on research. “It’s simply not enough. I can’t say that if we invested ten times as much we’d move ten times faster, but we would move faster.”
So why would the West Nile Virus receive more funds than Diabetes, you may ask? Hirsch contends that the perception of insulin as a kind of cure — or at least a potent remedy — has made other diseases seem to be a larger threat. Infectious diseases, in general, receive priority for government funding. That makes sense to me because government’s job is to protect us against epidemics, but it does not address the obvious lack of public funding for Type 1 diabetes, an auto immune disease that also strikes suddenly, without warning and is largely unpreventable. I could not “guard” against the Type 1 diabetes bug bite, although researchers believe that genetic and environmental factors do contribute to a person’s chances.
In today’s recessionary economic climate, I understand that taxpayers can not support every worthwhile disorder or disease. A few years ago, well about 40 years to be exact, President Richard Nixon declared a “war” on cancer and urged Americans to spend money to defeat it. Although some cancers are beatable today, I don’t think anyone would say we’ve won that war? And 40 years ago a group of angry and fired up parents formed JDRF, to raise money for better research and finding a cure for their children suffering with Type 1 diabetes.
Today, hoping for a cure is still a good thing. May is my anniversary month — I’m living 14 years with this uninvited house guest. I still believe things will get better in the near future for me and the 3 million Americans living with Type 1. However, hoping for a cure may also be unhealthy for the person living with diabetes.
As Hirsch, also a Type 1 diabetic and father of a child with the disease, correctly concludes: “If I believed (a cure) was ‘around the corner’ or five years away or even possible, it would have been easy to lapse into bad habits. Why go through the daily demands, frustrations and indignities of tight glucose management when a medical miracle would soon deliver me from my burdens? Diabetes is too taxing, too unforgiving, to hold out hope. It’s the ultimate paradox of the disease: if you have it, you have to live your life as if you’ll never be cured.”