Health activists urge action on tuberculosis

David Bryden, TB Advocacy Officer
April 04, 2017

A critical decision by President Trump on World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, March 24, reminded us of the enormous challenge we face this year. He proposed a massive cut of $44.6 million to FY 2017 funding for USAID’s tuberculosis program, a 19% cut to the program.

The disease is killing about 5000 people each day, more than any other infectious disease, and dangerous, drug resistant TB is now primarily spreading person-to-person, even in health facilities, yet his proposal would devastate effective programs. It could even put in jeopardy the main source of medicine for drug-resistant TB used by the Global Fund, the USAID-funded Global Drug Facility.

But Congress can say no to this and other cuts, so we are working together to urge members to support smart approaches to global health, to build capacity, scale up innovative approaches, and put us on a path to ending TB. Congress is where the funding will ultimately be decided.

The week of World TB Day we saw an intense effort to educate and inspire members of Congress.  This included a compelling new film drama about TB, set in South Africa, that was shown on Capitol Hill. Rep. Eliot Engel spoke at a reception for the film, sponsored by Management Sciences for Health, where he brilliantly explained the urgency of TB.

A major highlight of the week was the united day of action by US-based TB survivors, more than two dozen of whom fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives.  Some were first-time participants, including a mother from Missouri whose daughter developed multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). The TB survivors met face to face with a number of members of Congress, including Senator Richard Burr, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Jim Himes and more.

At a briefing in the Senate we featured unforgettable stories of former patients overcoming tremendous odds. One was a six-year old girl from Baltimore, Maryland who developed XDR-TB, the most dangerous kind, when she was only two years old. Be sure the read the riveting account by Lauren Weber at Huffington Post. She grabbed everyone’s attention when she bravely read aloud her letter to the Senate. Senator Van Hollen met with her, along with her father and pediatricians, and he posted the letter on his Facebook page.

A young man from Peru, Melquiades Huauya Ore, also told his story of almost giving up the struggle against the disease but then being cured with the help of Dr. Jim Kim, now President of the World Bank. Later in the week, at a briefing in the House, MDR-TB survivor Tanwa Owolabi called for stronger action to develop better medications and address the depression and isolation she went through. “The worst part was my family members were taken away from me, my brother, niece and nephew, and I had to drop out of school,” she said.

There is much more to do on TB, with just 5% of people in need getting the new, more powerful antibiotics, and the challenges are daunting. However, there are some very promising signs of progress, including exciting new momentum in India and other countries.

Let's keep up this momentum!  Policy makers should listen to the 63 members of the House who signed a bipartisan letter to appropriators, calling for a boost in global TB spending. A big thanks to the legislators who co-sponsored and those who signed this letter --- and to RESULTS volunteers who always remind Congress of the urgency of ending TB.  Let's keep up the pressure for FY18!