Headlines: October 7, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in global health news, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS failed to meet its annual funding goals. The New York Times reported that the Fund was unable to meet even its low “austerity” target of $13 billion, the amount needed to continue to fund AIDS treatment at current levels. While no one currently on treatment supported by the Fund will be cut off, the program will be unable to expand in order to keep pace with the growing number of infections in the AIDS epidemic. The Fund received $11.7 billion in funds this year with $4 billion coming from the United States. By law, the U.S. cannot contribute more than one third of the Fund’s total donations, and so without higher donations from other countries, the United States would be unable to raise its contribution. Currently, the fund pays for AIDS medication for approximately three million patients, or half of the world’s poor who are receiving AIDS treatment.
In legal news, because of the recent stem cell rulings, many researchers are worried about the future of their careers. Because of the recent court activity concerning the legality of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, many scientists are uncertain about whether they’ll be able to continue their research in the long term. The fact that NIH funding for stem cell research is in a type of legal limbo has led many researchers to seek private funding, and, alternatively to spend increasing amounts of time wondering how the Supreme Court might rule on the issue. According to the New York Times, “At stake are about 1,300 jobs, as well as grants from the National Institutes of Health that this year total more than $200 million and support more than 200 projects.” Before the court battle began earlier this year, stem cell research in the United States had been expanding under a more permissive regulatory policy implemented by the Obama administration that allowed Federal government funding to support research on a larger number of cell lines.
In health policy news, a new study has found that billions of dollars may be wasted because of the way hospitals purchase medical devices. According to the Boston Globe, “The study said hospitals and health care providers save money when they buy medical devices on their own instead of getting them through group purchasing organizations even though GPOs exist to save money for those buyers. The authors of the study say that is because medical device suppliers pay the GPOs for the right to sell their products to the hospitals, creating a conflict of interest.” More than 90 percent of hospitals in the United States currently use GPOs to purchase supplies. Until a 1986 change in Medicare rules, hospitals funded GPOs without any payments to the GPOs from device makers. The Globe reported that, “health care spending could be cut by as much as $25 billion a year, and federal spending by an additional $11.5 billion, if the law were restored and hospitals funded the GPOs again.”
Finally, the FDA has said that it needs to improve its scientific standards. Commissioner Margaret Hamburg announced that the agency will spend $25 million on collaborations with outside scientists in the coming year in order to improve its scientific standards and enhance its regulatory capabilities. While the agency is continually trying to update its practices, its funding has regularly lagged behind the amount requested by the agency, and is currently frozen at 2010 levels because of Congress’s failure to pass the 2011 budget. Depending on the outcome of the midterm elections, the agency’s goals could be blunted by a hostile congress.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.