OCTOBER 22, 2013
With the government shutdown behind us, frivolous spending is back to full-throttle with one agency proudly announcing—hours after the impasse ended—the allocation of $17 million to study health issues in Africa, including “African sleeping sickness.”
The money, awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is part of a much larger Obama administration program launched to improve the health of Africans by studying their genes and other environmental factors that contribute to common diseases. So far, Uncle Sam has generously provided the largest chunk of the $74 million for the cause, which includes training of African genomic scientists and building scientific infrastructure on the continent.
The initiative is known as the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Consortium or H3Africa and it aims to conduct genomic research on kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and the previously referenced “African sleeping sickness.” The U.S. government justifies the funding by asserting that Africa is the “original cradle of all humanity.”
Among the subjects to be researched with this latest allotment of U.S. tax dollars will be disabling, hereditary neurological disorders that are “under-studied in Africa” and the challenges of implementing genomic research in the country. In its announcement the NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, indicates that it has a good idea what some of those challenges may be; “psychosocial factors associated with disease burden.”
The money will also fund the research of “fevers of unknown origin” and other illnesses known to cause morbidity and mortality in “tropical developing countries.” Additionally, cash will for the first time go to an “ethical, legal and social implications component,” according to the NIH, which fails to elaborate what exactly this means. Universities and medical facilities in Nigeria, Mali and South Africa will receive the funding.
The Africa awards “demonstrate our continued commitment to furthering the capacity for genomics research on the African continent,” according to one of the U.S. officials involved in the project. The goal is to “form a strong backbone of research capacity in Africa,” says the NIH program coordinator in charge of this one.
Admirable as this may seem, it’s unlikely to be on the top of the list for American taxpayers. However, this sort of questionable spending is par for the course for the NIH, which annually doles out north of $31 billion to hundreds of thousands of researchers at thousands of universities and institutions around the globe.
While some of the causes appear to be valid, many are downright wasteful. For instance, the NIH recently awarded a Brazilian-born researcher $1.5 million to help women quit smoking in her native country. The academic runs a minority health program at a public university in Alabama and convinced the U.S. government to fund her international tobacco-control project in order to better understand “women and their tobacco-related issues” in Brazil.
Not long before the Brazilian smoking project, the NIH gave an Ivy League university professor more than $2 million to promote condom use among injecting drug addicts in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet socialist republic that serves as a main route for Russia and Europe-bound narcotics, and $823,200 for an equally questionable project that teaches uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex to help curb the spread of AIDS. Just a few enraging examples of what the government is doing with your tax dollars.
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