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In order to make the most impact, understand where your charitable donations go

Warm-hearted teenagers often work with high school organizations to raise money for foundations that provide support for the medical field.

Money raised by these hardworking teens and schools may go to research, prevention and treatment for a disease.

Whether now or in the future, someone you love may develop a life-altering disease or illness, but if diseases receive more funding now, your loved one has a better chance of surviving and living a full life after treatment.

One disease that receives large amounts of funding and publicity is breast cancer. During October, NFL players wear pink socks and car dealerships show commercials promoting donations to cure the disease. As a result, private donors dip into their own pockets to make breast cancer a thing of the past.

All of this publicity, however, leaves some people wondering about other diseases and illnesses, such as prostate cancer, uterine cancer and lung cancer, as well as heart disease and hypertension. These less-publicized illnesses get less federal funding from sponsors like the National Institute of Health (NIH), and less funding from private donors and corporations.

But diseases like these have mortality rates similar to breast cancer, as well as similar rates of burden, which is how a disease affects the lifestyle of the patient and their family.

For example, in 2010, research for breast cancer received $891 million in federal funding, while prostate cancer research received only $399 million. Yet, the National Institute of Health stated that in 2010 there was an estimated 40,230 deaths from breast cancer and an estimated 32,050 deaths from prostate cancer.

So why don’t some diseases get as much funding as others?

The answer is not simple. Government and private donors consider many factors when funding research, treatment and prevention for a disease. Many of these factors are not related to the mortality rates and rates of burden for a disease.

"Pop culture gets so much attention that when a celebrity gets a disease it gets more interest and it can potentially generate more funding," says Dr. Timothy Murphy, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at the University at Buffalo.

But pop culture is not the only outside influence for many diseases.

"A disease that has sociopolitical implications, such as AIDS, which affected the gay community, a very vocal and politically active community, contributed in a big, very positive way in generating interest and funding for HIV.

"Another (funding factor) is when a member of Congress is affected personally by a disease. This affects some bills in Congress where there is specific funding going to specific diseases," Murphy continued.

When understanding where funding goes, it is appropriate to understand where the money comes from. Most federal funding for research and prevention comes from the National Institute of Health, which gets it’s money from taxpayer dollars.

"Public funding, NIH funding, has more emphasis on the basic science end of the spectrum," Dr. Murphy added.

This includes studying and understanding how the molecules of a virus or disease work and looking at how molecules are shaped and how they touch. Any breakthroughs made at this stage of research are not likely to affect the public for an estimated 10 years or more.

Other medical funding comes from private foundations, such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which is well known for raising money for breast cancer research and prevention. The American Heart Association and the Society for Women’s Health Research are two other examples of private foundations. All of these are known for their grants in medical research.

Some funding also comes from independent private donors. Often times, these private donors are giving money to research for diseases that affect them personally. Whether they have the disease, or someone they love has the disease, or has died from it, private donors want to see their investment make a difference as quickly as possible.

This eagerness to see the affect of their donation leads private donors to invest in clinical, rather than laboratory, research.

"Private funding is close to where it’s going to go into people," says Murphy.

After much trial and error, doctors and scientists are able to test medications on human patients during clinical trials. This more elaborate stage in the research process is where most private funding goes. This research is likely to make a difference and help the general public within a few years.

Although personal effects of a disease and the eagerness for a cure are appropriate reasons for donating to medical research, there are other factors to consider. One may try to embrace the experience of loss and pain to decide how to make a donation that will have the most impact.

Another factor to consider, for example, is the amount of money that certain diseases receive compared to other diseases with similar mortality rates and rates of burden.

An example of a disease with this issue is digestive disease of the gallbladder. This medical crisis only gets $2,374 per death from federal funding, while the national average of federal funding per death for all diseases in the United States is $11,691, according to HealthGrove, a medical news and information site driven by data analysis.

A quick Google search can help identify diseases and illnesses that are underfunded compared to diseases with similar mortality and burden rates. The NIH provides data referring to the research it funds, and how much money it gives.

Other private foundations may focus on specific diseases, like the Komen Foundation focuses on breast cancer, so understanding how much money a single foundation is donating is crucial.

If a private donor is considering a specific foundation, another consideration is the amount of money that foundation uses for activities other than research, prevention, and treatment.

When researching, one must keep in mind that the total amount of money raised for the disease or illness is not always the total amount of money donated to research and prevention for that disease or illness.

Overall, there is always a need for funding for research, prevention and treatment for diseases that do not get a lot of funding compared to diseases with similar mortality and burden rates.

Philanthropists should make sure that when donating they are giving money to a cause that they believe in and that will make the most impact.

Sarah Crawford is a freshman at Nardin Academy.


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