Funding to research antibiotic resistant bacteria not a priority

MRSA—aka, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—kills more Americans every year than HIV. But, writes Maryn McKenna, "For every death from AIDS, the US federal research establishment awards approximately $69,000 in grant funds. And for every death from MRSA, it awards $570."


  1. I wonder what the factors driving that are. AIDS certainly does have somewhat better PR, not that non-troglodytes have realized that it isn’t exclusively a disease of homosexual druggies; but MRSA and friends have some pretty decent buzz as well.

    I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that a lot of AIDS research is also novel work in the still very much underexplored fields of immunology and the treatment of viruses in general, while the most immediately promising work for antibiotic resistant bacteria is the fairly prosaic(but deeply unsexy and politically lethal) business of getting people to not use antibiotics as an animal growth enhancer in feedlot agriculture, stop taking a round of *cillin every time they get the(probably viral) sniffles, and wash their damn dirty hands and hospital surfaces.

    If I had my science hat on, I know which of those I would rather be working on…

  2. While it certainly makes sense to prioritise funding for diseases that kill more people, it doesn’t make sense to calculate spending on a per death basis. Even if the same amount were spent on both diseases, the one that kills more would come out worse. The reality seems to be that there is around three times as much spent on AIDS as MRSA.

  3. HIV kills millions in Africa each year. It’s the second most deadly infectious disease worldwide. MRSA isn’t even in the top ten.

    Research done in this country has worldwide repercussions. Third-world countries stricken by HIV epidemics don’t have the resources to figure it out for themselves.

    Just some perspective.

  4. One thing to consider is the fact that HIV is a constantly evolving retorvirus – a class of infectious agent that was unknown up until the 1980s.

    MRSA is a bacterium (something that’s been around for a long time) and the ways to stop MRSA killing are pretty well known and understood. Deep clean hospital environments between patients, use basic common sense infection control strategies (wash your hands people).

    So comparing one to the other is like complaining that the government isn’t spending enough money on researching how to make swimming pools 100% safe for small children, compared to the millions of dollars spent on investigating child leukaemias.

  5. uuurgh so typical government, AIDs has got a lot of attention in the media by famous people getting it and and charities really pushing the facts about AIDs in 3rd world countries, so as usual the government responds to the media?

    Not to mention that MRSA is caused by hospitals not being as clean as possible and by giving money to its research, might bring attention to or make people think badly of hospitals cleanliness and as proven the government works on what people think of them, not what is best for everyone.

    am i suprised? no… personally im fed up of the government.

    In my opinion and form what i have gathered, MRSA is an evolving disease that our medicines aren’t working on. This is the one thing that could wipe out the whole human race! Im sure if the media pushed that fact and that more research needed to be done on that, and people started to talk about it, then sure the government would straight away do that, because they only respond when the people start talking, oh and when rich people wont be losing money on it (aka ‘the drug war’)

  6. Further, there are places in the world where HIV is endemic. That this is not the case in the US is due to aggressive prevention. HIV could become much worse in the US if not for aggressive research for reasons pointed out by phisrow and Graham Anderson.
    The NIH does fund HIV research around the globe, not just in the USA.

  7. In my day job, one of the things I work with is corporate risk management: looking at risks, evaluating their implications and likelihood, and making sure they are addressed in a reasonable way (i.e., making sure the effort put into their remediation and response is consistent across the various risks that are faced).

    IMO, coherent risk management is totally lacking in the public policy arena, and this goes for everything from drug policy to research funding. And this is probably one of the biggest “upgrades” we could make.

    Should funds between AIDS and MRSA be reallocated? I have no idea, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the policy makers and funders do either. But what I do know is that they could know a lot more and make better decisions if they actually started to look at societal risks in a coherent way.

  8. Last I checked, HIV is not a hospital-acquired infection. Reduction of Hospital-Acquired Infections is already heavily funded by the government. It’s called MEDICARE.

  9. AIDS affects a lot of very affluent people.

    MRSA affects overcrowded and understaffed hospitals, i.e. cheap/public hospitals.

    Quite easy, really.

    (To be fair, we should also point out that HIV has a 20-year advantage in terms of exposure/PR/children-are-dying-gimme-your-f*cking-money-now.)

    1. Quite easy, if you are allowed to just make things up:

      AIDS certainly has a few high-profile celebrity and other cases(who, thanks to antiretrovirals and the like tend to live a fairly long while); but the bulk of the infections(present and new) are among relatively poor and marginal populations. American blacks constitute about half the cases, along with prevalence in some poor rural areas, among certain high risk demographics, and a sprinkling of others. Worldwide, of course, the tendency for AIDS to be a poor and/or outgroup person thing is arguably even stronger.

      MRSA, on the other hand, certainly isn’t hard to pick up in a sub-par hospital; but it’s been community-acquirable for years now.

    2. re: “AIDS affects a lot of very affluent people. MRSA affects overcrowded and understaffed hospitals, i.e. cheap/public hospitals. ”

      Wrong and wrong. AIDs affects the affluent the least – though a lot of them take AIDs as a cause to champion. You had more of point in the 80s when many higher profiled actors and entertainers died from the disease.

      MRSA is everywhere. It isn’t just free clinics, your top of the line hospitals like the Mayo Clinic see cases of it. You are much, much more likely to get MRSA than AIDs

      Who gets the funds isn’t based on need, but by PR and lobbyists, perceived need, and how lucrative the cure it.

  10. Meh. Opioid-related overdose is the second largest cause of accidental death in the US (the largest in the 30-45 age group). NIDA (the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the branch of the NIH responsible for responding to consequences of drug use) currently funds *one* overdose-related grant, and it’s a small R21 at that. The CDC’s accidental injury branch has recently entered the game with two small grants to look at overdose following prescription opioid use.

    There’s plenty of similar examples of funding priorities not matching disease burden in the US, particularly when the disease/injury is seen as mainly affecting people who are undesirable (eg heroin users). HIV research is actually one of our big success stories in that we’re actually funding it at an appropriate level given its global burden *despite* the fact that it’s often associated with a still-stigmatized group (ie gay folks), at least in the US.

  11. As a person who almost died from MRSA I would say the point of this conversation might be to see what can be done to help get the message out regarding MRSA’s. Most people have not even heard of MRSA or know how prevalent it is, what it’s causes and symptoms are, and how it should be treated. How many knew that MRSA is not just a hospital borne bacteria. In matter of fact the strain that is in the general public (Community-Associated MRSA)is a much more resilient strain of MRSA and is increasing at a rapid pace. Over 90% of the MRSA cases in California come form CA-MRSA.

    I almost bought the farm because I was ignorant of the symptoms and had a bad doctor who didn’t make the right judgment given my situation. Just like the many doctors and the public who didn’t really know about HIV before the 1980’s. There are definitely some biased people on this board that don’t understand MRSA and need to become more informed. It is no joke that these “Super Bugs” could reach a point of being untreatable with any known anti-biotic.

    It would be nice for a change to see people on these boards coalesce more into solution oriented discussions. But then again that might ruin to many people’s intertainment time.

  12. Is Wired recruiting commenters from the WBC now?

    Those who choose to lead the homosexual lifestyle are a core constituency of the collectivist left and, thus, AIDS research “funding” is designed to bribe said homosexuals into voting for the collectivist left.

    And it has five likes.

    1. They may have followed a link from somewhere in Fundiestan(the “choose to lead the homosexual lifestyle” phrasing gives it that flavor); but (going by the “collectivist left”) it could just be the Internet Randroid Heroes that show up with atypical frequency in the regions of the internet dedicated to tech topics. I don’t know whether the seductive simplicity of ECON 101 just clicks for engineering rationalist types, or whether tech-related sites tend to have a readership that is sufficiently high-ranked among the petite bourgeois (programmers, engineers, network admins, other white collar salary types) to disdain state activities aimed at helping the poor and downtrodden; but sufficiently under-capitalized and lacking in political influence that it has nothing to gain from upward-pointing state wealth redistribution.

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