February 27, 2007

FDA Slashes Funding for Office of Women’s Health

From today’s Washington Post, Rick Weiss writes:

When is $4 million really $2.8 million?

One answer is “When you’re a woman,” as the Labor Department has repeatedly found that women earn about 75 cents for every dollar that men earn for the same work.

But this week’s answer is “When you are the Office of Women’s Health” within the Food and Drug Administration. That office, which was at the center of a politically damaging storm over the emergency contraceptive “Plan B,” just had more than one-quarter of this year’s $4 million operating budget quietly removed, insiders say.

The office funds research on male-female biological differences to ensure that women receive the most appropriate drug doses and treatments. It also produces heavily requested health information about menopause, pregnancy, birth control, osteoporosis and other topics.

The practical application of this drastic cut is huge. The already budgeted — and approved — $4 million for the Office of Women’s Health was the same amount it received for the past several years. But suddenly the FDA decides it needs to spend that money elsewhere.

According to a high-level FDA official, “Because the remaining $2.8 million has already been spent or allocated for salaries and started projects, the office must effectively halt further operations for the rest of the year,” reports the WP.

The political subterfuge of the FDA should come as no surprise, but this is still shocking. You may remember that Susan Wood, the former director of the Office of Women’s Health, resigned in protest back in 2005, when the FDA withheld approval for over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the brand name for emergency contraception, because of right-wing opposition. Some women’s health advocates see this as payback for the messy and public battle that ensued, resulting in FDA approval (finally) in 2006.

Martha R. Nolan, a vice president at the Society for Women’s Health Research, told the Post, “We fear this is the first step toward eliminating the Office of Women’s Health … We must not allow this office to be eliminated or reduced to an empty shell that has no program funding.”

The Washington Post really puts the issue in context and gives some background about the Office of Women’s Health. Read the full story here.


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