Facing a still uncertain funding situation for 2017 and the threat of significant cuts in 2018, ARVO members met with their members of Congress to rally support for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Eye Institute (NEI) during Advocacy Day.
The yearly Advocacy Day took place in conjunction with the ARVO Annual Meeting Planning Committee meeting in February. The 21 advocates consisted of U.S. and non-U.S. AMPC members, as well as early-stage investigators who shared how their current careers and future success depend on sustained funding from government agencies.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to visit my legislators with ARVO’s Advocacy Day,” said Erica Landis, a graduate student in Machelle Pardue’s lab at Emory University. “I learned much more than I had imagined and gained a lot of confidence discussing my research with others.”
The purpose for the day’s visits was to ask for an increase of $2 billion for NIH in both 2017 and 2018 — matching the funding bump seen in 2016. While asking for funding increases is a common theme for meetings with members of Congress, this year ARVO advocates were armed with new data to illustrate the return on government’s investment in vision research. Recent research from ARVO’s “Revealing the back of the eye with optical coherence tomography (OCT)” campaign has found that over 16,000 jobs are currently being supported by the technology, and that government spending has been reduced by using OCT to manage the prescription drug regimens for wet age-related macular degeneration. Such arguments were well-received by fiscally-sensitive offices and staff.
“I think many staffers were impressed by the impact that particular vision research discoveries, like the development of OCT and anti-VEGF treatments, have had on both health care outcomes and costs,” said Brian Song, MD, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
In the end, the ARVO Advocacy Day provides a great opportunity for members to get involved in government policy. “This year, I felt the need to stand up for science and defend the institutions that support us, like NIH and NEI,” said Alexandra Benavente, PhD, of SUNY College of Optometry. “Events like ARVO Advocacy Day are extremely important to all vision science community members to ensure that our main funding bodies continue to be supported by our government and we continue to set an example internationally.”
Advocates who began their day with House visits included, from left: Rithwick Rajagopal, MD, PhD, and Thomas Ferguson, PhD (both from Washington University), Lisa Keay, PhD (University of Sydney), Erica Landis (Emory University), Maxine Miller, MD (University of Pittsburgh), Frank Proudlock, PhD (University of Leicester), and Paul Gamlin, PhD (University of Alabama at Birmingham).