This past week, 450 rare disease advocates and patients descended on Washington, D.C., for Rare Disease Week, and I was glad to be amongst them. It was a packed agenda with four days of activities and awareness opportunities and I’d like to share the highlights:
Monday was spent with the Everylife Foundation’s Rare Disease Legislative Advocates conference, learning about their legislative priorities for the year. Among these priorities were increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I was glad to hear about these initiatives since they align with key priorities for the PKD Foundation.
Tuesday, we took to the Hill to spread the message of how important it is to protect and support those affected by rare diseases to as many members of Congress as possible. I visited several representatives’ offices, including those of Rep. Lacy Clay, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Rep. Jason Smith and Senator Josh Hawley. All of their offices listened intently to our stories and were receptive to our various asks, especially the need for increased medical research funding.
Wednesday brought the official Rare Disease Caucus Briefing—a chance for rare disease advocates to educate Congressional staffers about rare disease. The turnout was great with about 200 people present and ready to learn. We heard from two of the Caucus Co-Chairs, G.K. Butterfield and Amy Klobuchar, as well as various government agencies and rare disease advocates. They covered various topics, like challenges for caregivers of people with rare diseases, tools and techniques for diagnosing rare disease, and how the NIH and FDA are fighting rare diseases.
On Thursday, we gathered at the NIH for Rare Disease Day. A day of presentations, conversation and celebration of recent advances in rare disease therapy development helped everyone end the week on a high note. NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., gave a memorable talk about how far we’ve come, but also have far we still have to go in developing treatments and cures for rare and common diseases, and the NIH is committed to the cause. It’s wonderful to see that they are in the same frame of mind as we are at the PKD Foundation.
Events like these always remind me how powerful we can be when we raise our voices together. Seeing so many people, both advocates and legislators, involved in the week’s activities shows that we are being heard, and that we have the momentum to make change.
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