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Diseases Chasing Money and Power: Breast Cancer and Aids Activism Challenging Authority

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2011

Amy Sue Bix
Iowa State University


Through the 1980s and early 1990s, the course of American health research was increasingly shaped by politically-aggressive activism for two particular diseases, breast cancer and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Even as national stakes rose, both in dollars spent and growing demands on the medical system, breast cancer and AIDS advocates made government policy-making for research ever more public and controversial. Through skillful cultivation of political strength, interest groups transformed individual health problems into collective demands, winning notable policy influence in federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Activists directly challenged fundamental principles of both government and medical systems, fighting to affect distribution of research funds and questioning well-established scientific methods and professional values. In the contest for decision-making power, those players achieved remarkable success in influencing and infiltrating (some critics said, undermining) both the politics and science of medical research. Between 1990 and 1995, federal appropriations for breast cancer study rose from $90 million to $465 million, while in that same period, NIH AIDS research rose from $743.53 million to $1,338 billion.

Copyright © The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 1997

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35. February, 1996 fundraising letter from the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

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