In the end, as with so much else, the fight against disease leads to Washington. There are big diseases with big lobbies, like AIDS, Alzheimers, cancer, diabetes and heart. Their millions of sufferers have associations and lobbies to push for federal research money and to shape its expenditure. Most have their celebrity backers, like Elizabeth Taylor for AIDS, Jerry Lewis for muscular dystrophy, and Mary Tyler Moore for diabetes.
Big lobbies mean big federal dollars, the attention of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. If the disease is the kind for which a single or series of silver bullets can produce a cure, Big Pharma comes in with big funding, in the hope that it can develop a lucrative line of medicines, patentable for long-term profits.
Yet there is a vast archipelago of diseases as cruel in their impact, horrible to bear and crying out for research that is not sporadic, underfunded or, through ignorance, misdirected.
One such is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a name so gentle that it belies the ghastliness of this affliction. Sufferers accuse the U.S. government, abetted by other governments, of choosing this name over the older and more commanding name, myalgic encephalomyelitis.
CFS is not about a name game. It is about debilitation lasting decades, essentially from inception to death. It is about years of lost living, terrible joint pain and total collapse, as the immune system more or less shuts down. It is like some great constricting snake that denies its victims the final convulsion.