Conservative Media Deny The Facts: Lack Of Funding Hurts Research On Diseases Like Ebola

Conservative media are denying recent reports that sliding financial support has stalled research on infectious diseases and vaccine development, ignoring evidence that funding shortfalls have handicapped the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, told The Huffington Post on October 10 that “a decade of stagnant spending has 'slowed down' research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases.” Conservative outlets pivoted off of Collins' statement to misleadingly claim that an overall increase in the CDC's budget proves that a lack of funding has not hindered research on and the response to diseases like the Ebola virus.

On the October 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy said that the “CDC budget wasn't cut at all” and told viewers to “remember that money to [the CDC and the NIH] actually went up rather than got cut.” On the October 13 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh similarly argued that “the CDC got plenty of money,” including “significant budget increases.”

But both the NIH and agencies inside the CDC have experienced funding problems over the past decade. As The Huffington Post pointed out, the NIH's purchasing power has dipped significantly:

NIH's purchasing power is down 23 percent from what it was a decade ago, and its budget has remained almost static. In fiscal year 2004, the agency's budget was $28.03 billion. In FY 2013, it was $29.31 billion -- barely a change, even before adjusting for inflation. The situation is even more pronounced at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a subdivision of NIH, where the budget has fallen from $4.30 billion in FY 2004 to $4.25 billion in FY 2013.

NIH

A report from the Center for American Progress, released in March, explained that while funding may appear to grow nominally -- as it did for the NIH between 2003 and 2010 -- that small amount of growth did not keep pace with overall inflation, resulting in a decrease in purchasing power. So, “when adjusted for inflation, NIH funding decreased by 1.5 percent between FY 2003 and FY 2010. Moreover, when adjusted specifically for [Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI)] inflation, NIH funding over that period decreased significantly by 11.4 percent.”  The report said that budget cuts, including the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, exacerbated the situation: “The combined effect of austerity budget cuts and the increasing cost of biomedical research meant that between FY 2010 and FY 2013, NIH funding in BRDPI-adjusted terms decreased by 12.1 percent.”

Budget cuts have also hobbled relevant work by the CDC, whose emergency preparedness budget has been cut by almost half since 2006:

CDC

According to an infectious disease specialist writing at Scientific American, “annual funding for the CDC's public health preparedness and response efforts were $1 billion lower” in 2013 than in 2002, resulting in part in  “more than 45,700 job losses at state and local health departments since 2008.”

In addition, the director of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases testified at a September 16 Senate hearing that her agency -- which is responsible for leading the U.S. response in West Africa -- experienced a $13 million budget cut in 2013.