National mental health reform stuck in Congress

National mental health reform keeps hitting snags.

Senators advanced a bill package in March that would push a 2008 law that requires health insurers to cover treatments for physical health and mental health the same way. Even with bipartisan support, the bill package faces issues in the House. Funding is always an issue, as is the issue of gun laws.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) proposed a mental health bill in combination with the bill package, but Democrats object to sections of the bill that they would allow mentally ill people easier access to guns.

Guns are often associated with mental health issues. At the same time that lawmakers don’t want firearms in the hands of those that are mentally ill, they don’t want to infringe on second amendment rights. Three bills in Illinois seek to keep guns away from the mentally ill. One bill requires court clerks to compile a list of all the people a judge deems mentally disabled to Illinois State Police at least twice a year so their Firearm Owners Identification card can be revoked.

“I think that by far, the most damaging misperception about mental illness is that people who have mental illnesses are violent,” said Danielle Fritze, Director of Public Education & Visual Communications at Mental Health America, a national advocate for mental health.

“Issues like substance abuse, homelessness and poverty play a much larger role in acts of violence, but media coverage of mass tragedies makes it seem like there is more of a connection between mental illness and violence than there really is,” Fritze said. “Often times, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators.”

Those that are mentally ill often fall victim to poor treatment, too, and don’t have accessible help. This problem is often seen in the microcosm of universities. One recent display was at Boston University, whose faults were shared in a Huffington Post blog.

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Photo via Pexels.com

The blog tells the story of Naomi Carolan, a BU student who attempted to get an appointment at BU’s Student Health Services but was told there were no appointments available in the near future. Another mental health facility at BU gave her a similar response. When she tried to make an appointment with BU psychiatrists to get medication, she was told she could meet with them a month from then for an initial assessment, but would need another meeting for a final assessment and a meeting a month after her first trial of medication to adjust the dosage.

“I felt out of options,” Carolan writes.

The blog post prompted many other BU students to come forward with their grievances. In a follow-up post, one student writes of having to wait a month and a half for an appointment, and when they finally got in for their intake evaluation, they were told SHS couldn’t treat them. They were referred to other clinics, but those clinics didn’t have open appointments and were too far away from campus to mesh with their class schedule.

When asked to comment for this article, Boston University Student Health Services said they “maintain a policy where we do not assist students on class or professional related projects.”

The overload is not unique to Boston University. George Washington University’s Mental Health Services was also unavailable for comment as this is “the busiest time of year.”

Lawmakers know that students struggle with mental illness on campus and that the current facilities at most universities are not enough.

Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill. introduced a bipartisan bill to the U.S. Senate in March to provide grants for mental health services on college campuses nationwide. The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act was also reintroduced in the House by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

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Photo via Pexels.com

“Campuses should be ground zero in our efforts to combat mental health issues, including suicides and episodes of gun violence, yet many colleges and universities are not equipped to provide mental health awareness, screening, and services,” said Schakowsky in a press release. “The Mental Health on Campus Improvement Act would provide the resources needed to get direct mental health services and outreach to students and families.”

Fritze of Mental Health America agrees that people are not receiving services as early as they need them.

“While college is a time when some people will first start to experience mental health problems, many more individuals experience the first signs of mental illness in their teen years,” Fritze said.

“The most pressing issues are funding mental health services and ensuring people have access to care,” said Fritze, who agrees with lawmakers that our country needs mental health reform and said the most pressing issues are funding mental health services and ensuring people have access to care.

Fritze said it is also important to de-stigmatize mental illness and the idea that mental illness is something that people should just “get over.”

“Mental illnesses are not a choice or a sign of personal weakness,” Fritze said. “People need help to recover from these conditions just as they do any other.”

For May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health America puts on a month-long education campaign and distributes toolkits with fact sheets, a mental health tips calendar, worksheets and more. The program reached more than 19 million people in 2015.

Cornyn on Thursday blamed the lack of coordination among Senate committees for the state of the legislation. For now, Cornyn’s mental health bill is under committee consideration.

 

Featured photo via Pexels.com

Art Enables in DC gives developmentally disabled artists chance at professional career

WASHINGTON — Walk into Art Enables during the week and it seems like any other art gallery.

The walls display artwork of various genres and material – this one here is of shoes, glitter sparkling behind the glass. This one is an acrylic on canvas of Mona Lisa as a chicken. Another is a colorful scene of different figures surrounding a baby in the womb, done with marker on paper. Here, a city scene in watercolor.

Everywhere you look, there is color, from the art on the walls to the paint-splattered sink in the back.

Seated at the tables are the artists who create these pieces, all of whom have developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, from schizophrenia to autism to Down syndrome to trauma from a car accident.

These artists can create and sell their art – the whole creative process, right at Art Enables. The second Saturday of every month, doors are open to the public for everyone in the community to make art at Art Enables’ Second Saturday workshop.

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Nonja Tiller’s “Moments in Nature” on display at a Second Saturday workshop. | Photo by Hallie Smith

“I love the art. It’s powerful and complex and whimsical and provocative. It stands on its own in the folk art community,” said Tony Brunswick, Executive Director of Art Enables, located in DC’s northeastern quadrant. “It’s less about the fact that it was made by an artist with a disability and more about the fact it was made by an artist with talent.”

Brunswick has been with Art Enables since Nov., but has had artwork from Art Enables on his walls for more than 10 years. They moved to their Rhode Island Ave location in 2011, but they were founded in 2001, originally operating out of just a classroom.

Brunswick said Art Enables is unique in that it is not an art therapy program, but rather a vocational employment program that provides a professional pathway for artists with disabilities to have creative opportunities.

That’s not to say that the art doesn’t provide therapy.

‘“When you get to do the work you love, there is a real therapeutic gain,” said Brunswick.

Art Enables also works with any aides or therapists that work with their artists.

“If an artist is seeing a speech therapist and has a goal they are working towards, we want to know and do what we can to help,” said Eric Gordon, Service Coordinator for the program.

Gordon stressed the importance of the opportunities Art Enables offers their artists.

“You can be an artist and have talent and be an energetic person,” said Gordon, “but you need opportunities, need materials, space, positive support and a venue to sell your art.”

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Art Enables tries to provide the best variety and quality materials for their artists. | Photo by Hallie Smith

Brunswick said it is a “tremendous honor” to work with artists and see their creative process, as well as give them a professional experience.

Artists sell their art here, and because that is usually the artists’ main income, the art on the walls must go through a jury selection process.

Only the best of their best is displayed to give them the best chance to sell.  About 10 to 15 percent of the art makes it through the jury process.

The extra art goes home with them, though some of their better pieces are stored in their drawers and are still available for sale.

Art Enables further provides a professional art experience by using the downstairs gallery, Off Rhode Gallery, a nod to their Rhode Island Ave location, to showcase emerging artists in the area. Brunswick said this is done so Art Enables artists can meet new people and see how a professional gallery operates.

Art Enables artists can also meet new people because the gallery simultaneously functions as a studio.

“Sometimes it’s difficult for people in the disability community to meet people outside of the disability community,” said Gordon. He told the story of one woman coming in to purchase artwork and being able to have a conservation with the artist.

“[The artist and the buyer] had a really positive connection,” said Gordon, “and [the artist] really got high fives all around from everyone in the room.”

During the week, when artists are creating their art, they have the opportunity to talk with each other about their creations. One artist, Raymond Lewis, is exceptional at this.

“Raymond is the social glue,” said Gordon. “He goes around the room during studio time and says hello to everyone.”

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Some of Shawn Payne’s work in his art drawer. | Photo by Hallie Smith

Lewis said he likes coming to Art Enables and has been coming for years because he likes “all the people.” His artwork is intricate and often features characters from DC comics, one of Lewis’ passions. Gordon says he has a piece of Lewis’ art at home on his wall.

The topics of the art and the types of materials know no bounds. Artist Nonja Tiller prefers markers to create her scenes that often act as a commentary on society, whereas Shawn Payne designs shoes and dresses with acrylic, rhinestones and glitter.

“I don’t know anything about shoes, but we have shoe aficionados come in and they always love his pieces,” said Gordon of Payne’s work.

Payne has big dreams about his work: “I want to be an international superstar like Andy Warhol.”

With Art Enables providing the materials and venue, that dream may just be possible.

 

Featured photo: Art Enables storefront in DC. | Photo by Hallie Smith

Citing CTE concerns, families push for federal regulations in children’s contact sports

WASHINGTON – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, has been gaining more and more recognition as fears grow about the progressive, degenerative brain disease developing in athletes, and now, children.

CTE, which has been known to cause memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression and progressive dementia, is mostly found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

The disease is studied at Boston University’s CTE Center, an independent academic research center at BU’s School of Medicine that does extensive research on CTE and was recently given a one million dollar donation by the NFL to put towards CTE studies.

Currently CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem.

The latest push regarding CTE comes from mothers Karen Zegel and Kimberly Archie who have both lost sons to CTE. The difference between their sons and Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the first National Football League player to be diagnosed with CTE was that Zegel and Archie’s sons never played in the major leagues – only youth sports.

Zegel and Archie visited members of Congress on Wednesday, March 23 to push for federal regulations on contact sports for children under the age of 14, including banning heading in soccer, tackling in football and rugby and checking in hockey.

Archie, an advocate for rights of child athletes, has been involved in children’s sports rights since 2008. After Archie’s son died when he was 24, she met Zegel and began to unite with other families that had been affected by CTE or brain injuries. Archie said there are now 12 families that have joined the cause.

Athletes in various contact sports are concerned about CTE.

Earlier this year, Brandi Chastain, a soccer star who scored the winning goal in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, pledged to donate her brain to concussion research.

Chastain has also urged youth leagues to ban athletes under age 14 from heading the ball.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation has yet to identify CTE in a female athlete, though the foundation has identified nearly 200 cases of the disease, mostly in former football players.

Some players are so afraid of the long-term effects of concussions that they stop playing the game rather than risk it, like Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers.

“I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health,” Borland told ESPN. “From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think [continuing to play the game] is worth the risk.”

Borland retired in 2015 after just one year of playing.

It wasn’t until mid-March of this year that the NFL publicly acknowledged for the first time the link between football and CTE.

The NFL has instituted concussion protocol for any player hit in the head and in the rules instated for the 2015-16 season, it will be a foul to hit a player “forcibly in the head or neck area, or use the crown or hairline parts of the helmet.”

PopWarner, the world’s largest youth football league, made rule changes in 2012 to begin limiting contact during practices. Their website cites the reason as part of  their “continuing efforts to provide the safest playing environment for our young athletes, and in light of developing concussion research.”

All the new awareness of CTE is beneficial to research, said Chris Nowinski, Founding Executive Director of the CLF.

“The new awareness is helping research in many ways, from increasing the number of donations to the brain bank to rule changes meant to protect athletes,” said Nowinski.

Nowinski also said that even though some may think children aren’t strong enough to hurt another with force, they are mistaken.

“Children’s heads are nearly full size by the time they are 6 years old, but their mass is closer to 25 percent of an adult, and they have weak necks,” said Nowinski. “This means that when the head of a child is impacted, it takes little energy to accelerate their head and brain quickly, resulting in a bobble-head doll-like effect.”

The concern is not limited to the United States. Shannon Lawder, visiting Washington, DC from London, England with her two children and husband, said she definitely thinks about the safety of her children on the field.

“In England, boys have to play tag rugby [before they play tackle],” said Lawder, whose son is a fourth grader and a rugby player. “I would like if he could just keep playing tag instead of tackle.”

Rugby is similar to American football, though often characterized as being rougher, as it isn’t played with helmets or pads. Rugby is on Archie’s list of sports to make safer.

Archie said she and the other families plan to return next month as well as in the future for continued meetings with lawmakers, and that they are “committed to the long haul” it takes to create a new federal agency regarding children’s safety in sports.

“We don’t want any family to suffer the losses we have because they didn’t know better,” Archie said. “When you know better, you do better.”

The bill language is in the works for what will be called the “Sport Health & Safety Administration Act” and can be supported via petition at change.org.

 

Photo via Pexels.com

 

Women’s Health advocates push for support of Free the Tampon and removal of the “Tampon Tax” movements

WASHINGTON – Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat representing New York’s 6th District, introduced legislation (H.R. 3117) in early Feb. that would allow women to buy feminine hygiene products with Flexible Spending Account funds (FSA).

FSA can currently be used to cover certain medical costs, prescription drugs and items for a first aid kid, but not sanitary pads or tampons. Meng aims to amend the IRS tax code classification of menstrual products to include them in the allowances. The legislation has been referred to the House Ways and Mean Committee where it awaits further action.

According to a press release on Meng’s site, women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, and in an average lifetime, a woman will use about 10,000 tampons or pads.

Meng is not the only one leading a movement regarding feminine care products. Five women filed a class action lawsuit March 3 against the state of New York over the state’s “Tampon Tax.” They are demanding an end to the four percent luxury tax on feminine hygiene products as well as refunds for millions of women targeted by the sales tax.

In addition to the Tampon Tax, an initiative named “Free the Tampons” is gaining traction.

Founder and Chairman of the movement, Nancy Kramer, said the goal of the movement is to provide all public women’s restrooms with free tampons and pads because “women should not be subjected to the humiliation of the consequences of not having access to these items – it’s a public health issue.”

Kramer backs the movement to get rid of the Tampon Tax for the same reasons she thinks tampons and pads should be provided for free in restrooms.

“My point of view is that tampons and pads should be treated just like toilet paper. If toilet paper is taxed, so should tampons and pads,” Kramer said. “These items are just like toilet paper. These items are there to tend to our normal bodily functions that we have absolutely no control over.”

Kramer is pushing especially hard for tampons and pads in middle and high schools because when most girls find themselves without a tampon or pad and they need it, they are sent to the nurse’s office for one and Kramer doesn’t like that.

“Sending our girls to the nurse’s office sends the wrong signal – like they are sick,” Kramer said.

New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland joined the movement for free tampons and pads after she noticed girls skipping class to go home because they were too embarrassed to ask for pads or be seen in their already stained clothes.

Ferreras-Copeland pushed for the installation of free dispensers in 25 public middle schools and high schools in Queens and the Bronx that will provide products to 11,600 girls. According to a

According to a press release from her office, since the installation of the free dispensers, attendance at the school increased from 90 percent to 92.4 percent and fewer girls asked to be excused from their classes throughout the day.

“Providing young women with pads and tampons in schools will help them stay focused on their learning and sends a message about value and respect for their bodies,” Ferreras-Copeland said in the press release. “No young woman should face losing class time because she is too embarrassed to ask for, can’t afford or simply cannot access feminine hygiene products.”

According to the press release, the Department of Education estimates initial costs for the installation and supplies to be approximately $160,000.

Meanwhile, women continue to fight the Tampon Tax.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, writer and advocate for menstrual equity, has been leading a national advocacy strategy in support of the removal of the Tampon Tax. Along with Cosmopolitan magazine, Weiss-Wolf started a Change.org petition that begins, “We demand that the 40 U.S. states that impose sales tax on feminine hygiene products stop taxing our periods. Instead, follow the example of those states that have eliminated this unfair tax: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.” The petition has garnered more than 57,600 signatures.

Weiss-Wolf said the two main concerns that have been raised against the removal of the Tampon Tax are the desire to avoid subjectivity in tax codes and how to make back lost revenue from sales tax on tampons.

“Most states have very subjective exemptions already; it is a specious argument to suggest this is the only or first carve out. For example, Indiana has a specific carve out for BBQ sunflower seeds and Wisconsin [has an exemption] for gun club memberships,” Weiss-Wolf said. “On the second concern, my response is that states can recoup the lost revenue from sales tax on tampons on a product that the entire population uses, not just women.”

The Free the Tampon movement faces criticism, too. Most comments on stories about the movement question what would keep someone from stealing all the free products. Kramer said there are prototypes of a design that would allow the items to be given out on a timed basis, so someone couldn’t repeatedly press the lever for free sanitary products.

“People used to more readily steal toilet paper, and the restrooms have innovated a way to help discourage that,” Kramer said. “The same innovation needs to be applied here.”

Others question if free tampons and pads is really a problem that needs solving right now, but supporters are stalwart in defending its importance.

“Access to menstrual hygiene is not a frivolous issue. It is indicative of gender norms that stigmatize this simple biological process, and thereby stigmatize women. Just think about how politicians still use women’s menstruation as a way to discredit or discount women,” said Amanda Klasing, Specialist of Rights to Water and Sanitation at Human Rights Watch.

“From a human rights perspective, access to adequate menstrual hygiene is a gender equality issue,” Klasing said. “If costs of feminine hygiene products make them inaccessible to women and girls, governments should consider what steps are necessary to overcome barriers to access—that may mean subsidizing or providing them out right in some circumstances.”

 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Officials meet to discuss the difficulties of fighting the spread of Zika and create response plan

WASHINGTON – According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 153 reported Zika cases in the United States. The CDC classifies these cases into two categories: travel-associated and locally acquired vector-borne. All U.S. cases fall into the former category. In U.S. territories, including American Samoa and Puerto Rico, there are 107 reported cases, only one of which is travel-associated. The rest are locally acquired. There is not a third category for how many cases are from sexual transmission of the virus.

At a Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization briefing Wednesday afternoon, Lyle Petersen, Director of Division of Vector-Borne Diseases at the CDC, ventured a guess as to why there weren’t any locally acquired vector-borne transmissions in the states.

“We know it’s not the mosquito in the U.S. because it’s winter,” Petersen said.

Mosquitoes breed best in warm weather and the Northern Hemisphere is still a few months from consistently high temperatures.

At the same briefing, Marcos Espinal, Director of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis at PAHO said that there were 135,000 cases reported, but only 3,000 had been confirmed by testing.

The reports do not reflect the situation, Espinal said, because symptoms exhibited by some that think they have Zika are not consistent with the virus.

It is difficult to test for the virus if it is not active in the blood. Espinal said there are efforts to develop a reliable test to check for antibodies in the body of someone who no longer has an active Zika infection, but the efforts won’t result in an immediate solution.

“Science needs to run its course,” Espinal said.

Scientists are being urged to figure out the problem faster, as pregnant women and their children are among some of the most affected by the Zika virus. Officials have linked Zika with microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder in which the child is born with a smaller head than normal due to abnormal brain development, and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a condition where the immune system attacks the nerves and can cause paralysis.

“Many women may remain unaware they have the virus, as they may not develop any symptoms,” Sonia Mey-Schmidt, a communication officer at WHO said in an email statement.

“Only one in four people infected with Zika develops symptoms, and in those with symptoms the illness is usually mild,” Mey-Schmidt said.

The symptoms of Zika are similar to that of the flu, which may contribute to why so many cases are reported, but only a fraction are confirmed as Zika.

At a hearing earlier Wednesday at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, several officials testified before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee about Zika.

The hearing was titled “Examining the U.S. Public Health Response to the Zika Virus” and featured testimony regarding the spread of Zika virus, the potential link between Zika and other illnesses and the public health response plan of high officials.

Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida urged the testifying officials that a strong, planned response to Zika was needed as soon as possible.

“Ebola was something of a wake-up call,” Castor said, “but with Zika, we’ve got to be more prepared.”

One testifying panel member, Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the lesson learned from Ebola and H1N1 was to be “flexible.” The three priorities of HHS are vaccinations, diagnostic tests, and a blood supply safe from Zika virus.

Lurie said Congressional funding of the administration’s $1.9 billion funding request would ensure an “effective and rapid response” to outbreaks and “accelerate our ability to prevent, detect and respond to Zika” and other diseases.

“Many of our efforts will depend on new resources,” Lurie said. “Zika is our newest threat, but not our last.”

Thomas Frieden, Director of the CDC, said so little is known about Zika that “we are literally learning new things every day.”

Frieden agreed with Castor and said the U.S. needs to have a strong response to the spread of Zika. “We can’t let down our guard,” he said.

Frieden called Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the two mosquito types that are known to be spreading Zika, “cockroach mosquitos”: hard to catch and hard to kill.

Unfortunately, killing the mosquitoes doesn’t seem to help the spread of Zika.

“This mosquito is so tricky that even when we’ve seen very large knockdowns in the mosquito population,” Frieden said, “we haven’t necessarily seen commensurate reductions in human infections.”

Brazil is one of the countries that have been hardest hit by the Zika virus. The Brazilian Ministry of Health said in a report Wednesday that since Oct. 22, 2015, 5,909 cases of Zika-related microcephaly and other nervous system disorders have been reported in Brazil.

Brazil is scheduled to host the Olympics this summer in Rio, which has some on edge.

Paulo Buss, Director of Global Health Center and Oswaldo Cruz Foundation of Brazil said at the PAHO briefing not to worry about Zika during the Olympics.

Mosquitoes like warm temperatures and though August is summer for the Northern hemisphere, it’s winter for the Southern hemisphere. Brazil typically sees a mosquito drop in August, when the Olympics will be.

“Brazil is doing everything it can to avoid being a propagation of this virus,” Buss said.

Regardless of the efforts to make vaccines, develop diagnostic tests and perfect preventative measures, Jason McDonald, Health Communications Specialist for the CDC understands that the public may be more scared than usual that this newest outbreak can affect their children.

“We understand any angst or anxiety families feel knowing there is a mosquito-borne virus capable of harming an unborn baby,” McDonald said in an email statement. “We are working around the clock to understand the nature of the threat in order to protect mothers and their unborn babies.”

Photo: Nicole Lurie of Preparedness and Response, Thomas Frieden of Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Anthony Fauci of National Institutes of Health, Luciana Borio of Food and Drug Administration and Timothy Persons of Government Accountability are sworn in to testify before the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Wednesday morning. (Screenshot of Livestream via Energy and Commerce Committee)

Obama and Biden’s Moon Shot Initiative aims to cure cancer

WASHINGTON — President Obama announced at his last State of the Union Jan. 13 “a new national effort to [cure cancer]” and put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of the effort.

Biden had already been working with Congress to give the scientists at the National Institutes of Health “the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade.” This new cancer initiative is named National Cancer Moonshot, in reference to the push that Americans made to put a man on the moon.

February 1, two weeks after his State of the Union, Obama announced plans to call for $1 billion in funding for cancer prevention and research.

The President’s budget was announced on Feb. 9, formally and officially breaking down the $1 billion of funding for the Initiative to include $195 million in new cancer activities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Fiscal Year 2016 and $755 million in mandatory funds in the 2017 Budget for new cancer-related research activities at both NIH and the Food and Drug Administration.

Biden announced the night of the State of the Union he had spent the last several months meeting with “nearly 200 of the world’s top cancer physicians, researchers, and philanthropists.” Biden, who lost his own son to cancer, said the Moonshot Initiative would be comprised of two efforts: increasing resources and bringing cancer fighters together to share information.

According to an online statement from the Office of the White House Press Secretary, a Task Force heading off the Initiative will include the Vice President and the heads of various departments, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

One member of the Task force is Dr. Douglas Lowy, MD, Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute. Lowy said in an email that the NCI applauds the “commitment to change the face of cancer as we know it,” and that the Task Force’s responsibilities are clear.

“We have been charged with ensuring that the initiative is science-driven and builds on advances already made,” said Lowy. “An important part of the effort will be identifying current barriers to progress and developing specific ways to better coordinate Federal efforts to support cancer research and care, partnerships with stakeholders, and implementation of findings.”

Another member of the Task Force is the Director of NIH, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. In an online statement posted Feb. 2, Collins said that at the first meeting of the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force the day before, “There was a lot of energy in the room — the kind that comes with a shared desire to make a positive difference in people’s lives and the awareness that the United States has the brainpower and determination to do it. We are, indeed, a nation of innovators.”

Innovators at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at University of Texas have been working on The Moon Shot Program since 2010, long before it became a national movement. Last October, they added six new cancer types to their research, bumping their total to 13 types of cancer.

Jevon Tillman, Health Information Specialist at MD Anderson, said in an email the goal of the Moon Shot Program at MD Anderson is to “dramatically reduce the incidence and mortality of cancer, so that the disease in all its forms is preventable, detectable, treatable, and forgettable.”

Tillman said that the research that MD Anderson will be doing for the Moon Shot Program is in the form of a clinical trial, but that not all clinical trials at MD Anderson are part of the Moon Shot Program.

The name “Moon Shot” has been criticized by some. One New York Times article by domestic correspondent Margot Sanger-Katz on Feb. 13 was against it.

“The name suggests a broad, revolutionary new set of initiatives, but the Biden program’s funding represents a tiny fraction of the current national spending on cancer research,” wrote Sanger-Katz.

Tom Flanagan, Director of Communications Strategy at American Cancer Society, Inc. said it’s safe to draw a comparison.

“If the moon landing sparked progress in space exploration,” said Flanagan, “perhaps this expansion of research dollars could pave the way for the Mars landing – the next gigantic breakthrough – in the fight against cancer.”

Flanagan says the cancer death rate in the US has dropped 22 percent since the 1990s, “so the optimism [about the program] is backed by facts.”

Even with the 22 percent drop and the Moon Shot Initiative in the works, Flanagan says the American Cancer recognizes there is a long way to go.

“While the American Cancer Society is proud of its contributions in the progress in the cancer space, it realizes there is a long way to go because 600,000 American will die of the disease this year. Progress is being made – there is absolute scientific proof that it is – but, realistically, there is not likely going to be a single “cure” for cancer,” says Flanagan. “Victory in this fight may inevitably be reaching a point where all cancers are treated as a manageable chronic disease.”

Boston University Pedestrian Accidents

For my end of the year project, I researched pedestrian accidents on Boston University’s campus and in the city of Boston. I gathered my findings in a Shorthand Social project for easy viewing. Please enjoy!

Boston University Pedestrian Accidents Down from 2014