This Tuesday, April 7, was World Health Day, and to celebrate, we’re shining a spotlight on the work of Senator Claude Pepper and his role in expanding the National Institutes of Health. Established in 1887, the primary location of the National Institute of Health is based in Bethesda, Maryland. Originally known as the Hygienic Laboratory, it was re-designated in 1930 to the NIH. Claude Pepper was elected to the United States Senate seven years later. At that time, apart from the National Institute of Health, only the National Cancer Institute functioned as national research institutions for combating infectious disease.
In 1943, the United States was in the midst of a global war against the Axis Powers. In the States, advances in medicine were needed both at home and on the battlefield. That year, the Senate Subcommittee on Wartime Health and Education was formed to address the health and education challenges then facing the United States. Having a keen interest in securing healthcare for all Americans, Pepper would be appointed chair of the Health and Education Subcommittee, and he made it his mission to secure greater funding for and expand the scope of the Institute. Within the year, the National Cancer Institute would become a division of the National Institute, and in 1948, the name was changed once more to the National Institutes of Health.
By 1950, Senator Pepper would serve as the chief sponsor for 5 additional Institutes including the National Institutes of:
- Mental Health
- Heart, Lungs and Blood
- Allergy and Infectious Disease
- Neurological and Communicative Disorders
- Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive & Kidney Diseases
With his political career ended for a time in late 1950, Pepper would be out of politics until he ran for and won a US House seat in 1962. This brief period outside of national politics did nothing to slow him down, however. Between 1961 and 1974, there were five more institutes established:
- Child Health & Human Development
- General Medical Sciences
- Environmental Health Services
- National Eye Institute
- the National Institute on Aging
In 1967, Pepper was presented with the Albert and Mary Laskin Award. Presented to those individuals who have made major contributions to the field or medical science or to those performing great public service on behalf of medicine, Pepper was awarded for serving as the principal sponsor for all but one National Institute of Health (Dental Research) from 1950 to 1967.
The National Institutes of Health are currently made up of 27 member institutions across the United States, each with a specific research agenda, though all with the same goal of improving the lives of Americans through medical advancement. Currently NIH researchers are engaged in efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus, and their website provides up to date information and helpful tips for keeping safe.