Published March 1972 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd U.S. Moves Toward Better Health Americans have always been concerned with their health and rightly so, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health. In a single year, Americans suffer o v e r 396 million illnesses or injuries that result in at least one day of restricted activity; and the average citizen spends nearly six days in bed annually as a result of sickness or injury. More than 50 percent of our population is suffering from at least one chronic ailment including cancer, heart disease, allergies, and arthritis. There is no doubt, says NIH, that illnesses pose a more serious threat than injuries. Of the almost 2 million Americans who die each year, less than six percent are killed in accidents; and heart disease, cancer, and stroke alone claim two-thirds of the victims. These facts illustrate the great need for improved health care in the United States; and, fortunately, the past few years have seen the task of providing that care receive the high priority it deserves. At the present time, there are 41,000 employees working in Federal health agencies including 56 Regional Medical Programs that are designed to serve areas previously neglected in our health efforts. The regional centers are supported by the National Institutes of Health, where intensified research programs are now beginning to pay high dividends. In 1968, for instance, one of the 2,230 scientists at NIH received a Nobel Prize in medicine - the first Federal employee ever to do so. And other researchers have developed breakthroughs in fighting leukemia, identified cancer- causing viruses, and reversed for the first time a degenerative disease of the retina causing night blindness and a gradual loss of vision. The research and the regional medical programs hold out the hope that many diseases will not only be cured in the future, but that they will also be prevented and "prevention" is the key word in any long-range health plan. For one thing, preventive medicine could cut medical costs, which have risen twice as fast as the cost of living in the past 12 years; and it could reduce stays in hospitals, where costs have skyrocketed five times as fast as the cost of living since 1960. But most important, preventive medicine-- supported by continuing scientific research - could give us the weapon we need to win the health war of the 1970's.