- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

A California dentist who has survived a heart attack, liver cancer and three liver transplants is trying to start a national campaign to pressure Congress to base funding for disease research on mortality, a move that would sharply reduce AIDS funding.
Dr. Richard Darling, 55, of Palm Desert calls it "grossly unfair" that the money spent by the National Institutes of Health for research into AIDS which killed 15,245 Americans last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeds the amount allotted for research into heart disease, which kills more than 700,000 Americans annually.
The NIH research budget for cardiovascular diseases totaled $1.9 billion in this fiscal year, while its AIDS counterpart was $2.5 billion, according to NIH's Office of AIDS Research.
Dr. Darling and a colleague are preparing a Web site (LifeComa.org) to lobby for a system that ties federal research dollars to the number of deaths from a medical condition.
"The entire allocation system is outrageously biased toward AIDS. The system is extremely unfair to heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate disease, Alzheimer's and leukemia," Dr. Darling said in a telephone interview, citing some of the medical conditions that outstrip AIDS in terms of deaths but which lag far behind in funding.
At least one member of Congress shares Dr. Darling's concerns about how money for diseases is allocated. "If you have the politically correct disease, the prospect of getting federal funding to help find the cure are 100 times greater than if you have some other disease, even though it may be much more common," Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, told ABC TV's "20/20."
Dr. Darling, who's given up his dental practice and is "trying to stay alive," notes that NIH's $900 million increase for AIDS research between fiscal 1998 and 2002 is more than the total $772 million research budget for diabetes in fiscal 2002.
While AIDS has killed a total of fewer than 31,000 in the past two years, diabetes killed nearly 68,700 in 2000 alone, about 300 more than the previous year, according to new mortality data released by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Those data show that AIDS still qualifies as a "leading cause of death," even though AIDS deaths began plummeting six years ago. "But it's out of the top 15 causes of death," said NCHS spokeswoman Sandy Smith. In fact, it's been off that list since 1998.
AIDS reached its peak as a killer back in 1995, when it took 51,147 lives., according to the CDC.
From the beginning of this country's AIDS epidemic in 1981 through last year, a total of 457,667 persons died of AIDS-related complications.
In 2000 alone, 709,694 persons died of heart disease and another 551,833 died of cancer.
"We've seen a decline in AIDS deaths since 1996," said CDC spokeswoman Jessica Frickey.
Yet AIDS research funding, $1.3 billion in 1995, today is double that amount.
Ms. Frickey says she does not feel qualified to discuss AIDS funding. But she points out an estimated 950,000 Americans are currently living with HIV, and that there are an estimated 40,000 new infections yearly.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funds most federal AIDS research, said the "number of new infections has not decreased for 10 years," a situation he called an "unacceptably high plateau."
He also noted that many AIDS victims are young, AIDS is still a relatively "new challenge" and it remains a "devastating" problem globally. For those reasons, Dr. Fauci sees a need to "maintain" or even "accelerate" the large research budgets.

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