by Jay Johansen | Jan 15, 2014
The United States government spends billions of dollars every year on medical research. Well, that's cool, we all want to see diseases cured.
The National Institute of Health produced a report in 2012 detailing where the money was going. Sifting through this report, one finds that the biggest money is being spent as follows. Note the numbers are in millions of dollars. So for example, "5,448" means $5,448,000,000, or about five and a half billion dollars.
|Disease||Government Funding, Millions|
|Pneumonia & Influenza||382|
Note: This report is a little difficult to read, as it categorizes spending in many different ways. It groups spending by general disease, like "Cancer", and also by specific disease, like "Prostate Cancer", "Breast Cancer", etc. It also groups by demographic groups, like "Women's Health", and by procedural techniques, like "Genetic research". Thus, the same research money is reported multiple times. I got the above table by taking just the categorization by disease, and taking only the "highest level", e.g. "cancer" rather than the various specific types.
How does this relate to the prevalence or seriousness of each of these diseases? In general, I would think that we would want to devote the most resources to the diseases that cause the most suffering. While we don't want to abandon people who have a rare disease, it makes sense to spend more on the diseases that affect the most people or that due the most harm.
So I found some other statistics from the government listing causes of death. Here's every cause they listed that caused more than 1,000 deaths.
|Chronic lower respiratory diseases||138,080|
|Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis||50,476|
|Influenza and pneumonia||50,097|
|Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis||31,903|
|Complications of medical and surgical care||2,490|
* The last two rows, drug and alcohol deaths, include deaths in other categories.
Now let's compare these two tables. Let's match the amount spent on each disease with the number of deaths caused by that disease.
Some caveats: "Death" is not the only form of suffering. For example, few people die from eye disease, but some number go blind.
The data comes from different sources and was collected for different purposes, so the categories may not be strictly comparable. I've marked the particularly hazy connections with a "~" symbol. Numbers so marked should be taken as rough approximations.
Spending numbers are for 2011 while death statistics are for 2010. In each case these were the latest numbers I could find (as of February 2013). Both numbers are stable enough that this makes little difference, and in any case research is a long-term investment, so year-to-year variations are not particularly relevant anyway.
|Disease||Government Funding, Millions||Deaths||Dollars/Death|
|Pneumonia & Influenza||382||50,097||7,625|
© 2014 by Jay Johansen