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The Perpetual Challenge: Managing the Threat Infectious Diseases Pose to Our Community

April 6, 2017

“Absolutely, something is going to happen.”

With those words, Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that every administration in modern history has had to contend with outbreaks of infectious disease, and more outbreaks will occur in the years ahead. Fauci was speaking to a packed audience of attorneys, advocates, public health experts and others at a breakfast sponsored by Children’s Law Center yesterday.

From HIV/AIDS to Zika, and with many outbreaks in between, our country has faced infectious diseases that challenged medical researchers, strained our public health system and our budget, and collectively claimed millions of lives. Solutions, he said, lie in adequately funding medical research and vaccine development, building trust with the medical system, rejecting stigma, and helping people manage unreasonable fears.

Children’s Law Center organized the event, Executive Director Judith Sandalow said, to help educate a broad audience about these threats and to inform its work, which includes connecting DC’s least-connected children and families to the systems that can support and protect them. “The children we help,” Sandalow added, “are some of the hardest for the medical community to find. We can help build a relationship of trust.”

Sandalow said many immigrant families in the District are afraid to seek medical care right now, because parents fear being deported. Fauci acknowledged that the uncertainty is also affecting the medical research community, noting that some researchers from other countries are afraid to train here; they worry that if they go home for a family wedding or other event, they may not be able to return.

In response to a question about vaccine denialism, Fauci cautioned about the very serious risks associated with vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and noted that the evidence is overwhelming that vaccines work and do not cause autism or other problems.

The event was hosted by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. “I’ve had the privilege of serving on the [Children’s Law Center] board for four years and I’ve never seen a more energetic, sophisticated and committed not-for-profit organization in my life,” Skadden Partner John Bentivoglio said in kicking off the event. He lauded Children Law Center’s staff and attorneys for doing “extraordinary work on behalf of the neediest members of our society here in DC—kids.”

Last year, Children’s Law Center directly assisted 5,500 children and families, more than 1,600 of them with health-related problems. Through its innovative medical-legal partnerships, the organization embeds attorneys at health clinics around the District, using legal advocacy to address the root causes of children’s health problems. Overall, Children’s Law Center reached one in nine children living in DC’s poorest neighborhoods in 2016.

At the National Institutes of Health, Fauci oversees an extensive research portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections and tuberculosis as well as emerging diseases such as Zika. He has advised six presidents and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on HIV/AIDS and other health issues. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.