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Flash flood. (Letters).

Alicia Mundy's article ("Hot Flash, Cold Cash," January/February) mischaracterizes the goals and ignores the accomplishments of the Society for Women's HeaLth Research, using innuendo and misstatements to inaccurately portray the organization.

The real story is that the Society has successfully fought for policy and scientific changes to advance medical research. Our advocacy efforts to routinely include women in clinical trials and analyze research data by sex have provided vital new information to improve women's health. The Society helped achieve increased women's health-research funding, initiated a landmark Institute of Medicine report on analyzing data by sex, and continues to educate women about health issues that previously received no attention.

The Society is extremely successful both financially and legislatively at accomplishing long-range goals. Like other not-for-profit health organizations, the Society accepts individual, foundation, government, and corporate (who do a significant percentage of research in the U.S.) support for scientific meetings, advocacy, and public education programs.

While the Society's primary focus is on sex differences and clinical trials, we did comment on the Women's Health Initiative because of its significance to women. Our position is similar to those of the American College of Ob/Gyn, North American Menopause Association, and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Our statements and testimony as well as all our position papers, press releases, and reports are readily available on our Web site at
Board Chair, Society for Women's Health
Research; Associate Professor of Medicine,
Harvard Medical School; Director,
Immunology Laboratory, Mass. General

I believe Alicia Mundy's article unjustly portrays Phyllis Greenberger and the Society for Women's Health Research, and, by extension, undermines the credibility of a vast number of not-for-profit health and patient-advocacy organizations. The Society is a hardworking nonprofit group that draws upon the leadership of some of the most distinguished scientists and authorities on women's health in the nation. For instance, it was the Society that urged the National Institutes of Health to properly study the effects of new medications on women and to boost the role of women as health-research professionals.

I look forward to the Society for Women's Health Research, with Phyllis Greenberger at the helm, continuing to lead the way in advancing and disseminating accurate and useful health information for women across our country.
Executive Director, Alliance for Aging
Research, Washington, D.C.

Bravo to a long-overdue, in-depth article on the problems that inevitably follow when a nonprofit advocacy organization accepts too much funding from the pharmaceutical industry. On a number of occasions, I have been struck by how the comments or positions taken by the Society for Women's Health Research's president have been biased strongly in favor of industry interests rather than consumer interests.

For example, when a cheaper, plant-based estrogen came up for approval--with thorough scientific testing and FDA scientist endorsement of its equivalent efficacy in comparison to Premarin--the Society for Women's Health Research opposed its approval. In May 1996, Phyllis Greenberger told The New York Times, "The real issue is to promote research, and the scientific community feels strongly that the opportunity to patent motivates research ... This should be resolved by the scientific community. I'm sure they have good intentions, but I don't see why Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan should be talking about patenting genes." Advocacy organizations that truly serve in the public's interest try to create a more informed lay public--by encouraging the participation of leaders like Steinem, as well as the participation of everyone capable of careful consideration of even complex issues. We leave these debates solely to the scientific community and industry interests at our own peril.
Executive Director, Our Bodies,
Ourselves, Boston, Mass.

Thanks very much for your important article about the Society for Women's Health Research's conflicts of interest. While SWHR was once an effective and important voice for women's health, my own organization has repeatedly seen the group kowtow to corporate sponsors. For example, several former breast-implant manufacturers are involved with the organization. In October 1996, during the heat of court activity with these companies, SWHR hosted an event at the National Press Club to dispel questions about the safety of the implants. Dow Corning and Bristol Myers Squibb representatives actively worked the press at the event, although there was no similar attendance by women's health groups.

Even manufacturers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledge that silicone and saline breast implants have high product failure rates and severe complications. It's a shame that SWHR, founded as an advocate of cutting-edge women's health research, has not been able to do the same.
Command Trust Network
via email

Three cheers for Alicia Mundy and her article exposing in almost frightening detail the extent to which the women's health agenda is being driven--through organizations like the Society for Women's Health Research--by companies whose bottom line depends on selling women things they may not need.

The women's-health movement in general, and the breast-cancer community in particular, is increasingly being funded by companies whose interest is more in profits than in women's lives. A passing look at the list of funders for most breast-cancer organizations reveals a number of companies that produce cancer drugs, including Astra Zeneca, the principal corporate sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities in October, and Myriad Genetics, the patent holder on breast-cancer genetic testing. From genetic testing to mammography screening, and from new treatments to pills for breast-cancer "prevention" and beyond, pharmaceutical companies are influencing what many breast-cancer organizations say and do.

Breast Cancer Action is the only national breast cancer organization that expressly refuses to accept funds from businesses that profit from cancer. When we have something to say, you don't need to wonder who paid us to say it.
Executive Director, Breast Cancer Action
San Francisco, Calif.
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Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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