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Medical News & Perspectives |

Shutdown Underscored Vulnerability of US Public Health and Biomedical Research to Political Wrangling

Bridget M. Kuehn, MSJ
JAMA. 2013;310(18):1907-1909. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.281654.
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The federal shutdown in October left US public health and biomedical research systems reeling and exposed their vulnerability to national politics. The shutdown reduced staffing at the federal health agencies, crippling many programs and cutting off funding for health services, research laboratories, and other efforts that depend on federal support.

The interruption of public health efforts raised major concerns as the nation entered peak seasons for influenza and other communicable diseases. Troubling stories emerged in the media about hundreds of patients who could not enroll in cancer clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center because new trials had been stopped (http://wapo.st/1glMSxk) and about vulnerable families at risk of losing their federal food aid (http://onforb.es/18sraDB).

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The 16-day federal shutdown caused both immediate and long-term problems for US public health and biomedical research.

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About half of the US Department of Health and Human Services staff were furloughed (based on the agency’s contingency plan), but some of the agency’s units were hit harder than others.

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