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What Deadly Diseases Are the Most Underfunded for Research in the U.S.?

A range of calculated costs are factored into funding decisions on which diseases and public health threats for research scientists to explore

According to publicly available data, the average research funding per death in America is a mere $11,691. Click to view larger
According to publicly available data, the average research funding per death in America is a mere $11,691. (HealthGrove photo)

Deciding how much research funding gets allocated to each disease is a perpetually contentious issue.

Every year, doctors, scientist and policymakers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — the health research arm of the federal government — must make critical decisions and evaluate which diseases pose the biggest public health threat and, therefore, which get the most money.

Although some believe mortality rate is the primary concern, the NIH considers many other factors. Morbidity, financial cost and disability worldwide, both current and projected, all play into the evaluated burden of disease.

While the NIH commits billions of dollars to fighting diseases around the world, the organization is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars. Some point out that the organization’s funding doesn’t always match the need at home in the United States.

Take malaria, for example. While this disease caused 438,000 deaths worldwide in 2015, it only killed 10 in the United States in 2013. But, American taxpayers paid roughly $163 million in NIH malaria research funding in 2015. That’s $16.3 million in funding per American death to malaria.

In comparison, consider that the average funding per death in America — when accounting for the NIH’s full $30.4 billion budget — is a mere $11,691. In the scope of the United States, that makes malaria, at approximately 1,362 times the average funding, disproportionately overfunded.

On the flip side, many deadly diseases in the United States could be considered underfunded — receiving less funding per death than the average of $11,691.

Lung cancer is notorious for this. In 2008, The New York Times noted the limited funding per death, and that still holds today. This disease killed 156,252 people in 2013, and in 2015 it received $348,755,072 in funding. That pencils out to only $2,232 per death.

A few other common diseases receive even less still.

Commenting on a 2011 study he did, Dr. Clairborne “Clay” Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, noted that it appears “we underfund things where we blame the victim.”

Given the connection between smoking and lung cancer, this might explain the disease’s current funding, or lack thereof.

Using data from the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the experts at Summerland-based HealthGrove discovered the 18 deadliest, underfunded diseases in the United States. These diseases all receive less funding per death than the $11,691 average.

It is important to note that many diseases not listed may be underfunded considering the pain and disability they cause. For example, migraines negatively affect the lives of many people, but they are not included on this list because they do not directly cause death.

#18 - Prostate Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $10,395
Deaths in 2013: 27,682
Total Funding in 2015: $287,746,995
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#17 - Ovarian Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $8,282
Deaths in 2013: 14,276
Total Funding in 2015: $118,228,637
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#16 - Chronic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis

 


Funding per Death: $8,087
Deaths in 2013: 36,427
Total Funding in 2015: $294,592,023
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#15 - Alzheimer’s Disease

 


Funding per Death: $6,951
Deaths in 2013: 84,767
Total Funding in 2015: $589,204,366
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#14 - Colo-Rectal Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $5,905
Deaths in 2013: 52,252
Total Funding in 2015: $308,539,973
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#13 - Parkinson’s Disease

 


Funding per Death: $5,804
Deaths in 2013: 25,196
Total Funding in 2015: $146,226,134
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#12 - Hypertension

 


Funding per Death: $5,763
Deaths in 2013: 37,144
Total Funding in 2015: $214,050,133
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#11 - Uterine Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $5,598
Deaths in 2013: 9,325
Total Funding in 2015: $52,205,435
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#10 - Digestive Diseases - (Peptic Ulcer)

 


Funding per Death: $5,191
Deaths in 2013: 2,988
Total Funding in 2015: $15,510,306
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#9 - Pancreatic Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $4,460
Deaths in 2013: 38,996
Total Funding in 2015: $173,911,461
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#8 - Liver Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $3,539
Deaths in 2013: 24,032
Total Funding in 2015: $85,058,323
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#7 - Septicemia

 


Funding per Death: $2,711
Deaths in 2013: 38,156
Total Funding in 2015: $103,427,554
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#6 - Digestive Diseases - (Gallbladder)

 


Funding per Death: $2,374
Deaths in 2013: 3,377
Total Funding in 2015: $8,015,404
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#5 - Stroke

 


Funding per Death: $2,233
Deaths in 2013: 128,978
Total Funding in 2015: $287,984,427
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#4 - Lung Cancer

 


Funding per Death: $2,232
Deaths in 2013: 156,252
Total Funding in 2015: $348,755,072
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#3 - Pneumonia

 


Funding per Death: $2,100
Deaths in 2013: 53,282
Total Funding in 2015: $111,914,006
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases(in the U.S.): $11,691

#2 - Heart Disease

 


Funding per Death: $2,065
Deaths in 2013: 611,105
Total Funding in 2015: $1,261,640,505
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

#1 - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

 


Funding per Death: $663
Deaths in 2013: 145,575
Total Funding in 2015: $96,584,162
Average Funding Per Death for All Diseases (in the U.S.): $11,691

Click here to research diseases on HealthGrove.

— Sabrina Perry is an associate editor at Graphiq, a Summerland data analysis and visualization startup. This article is based on data curated by HealthGrove, a division of Graphiq.

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