Tuberculosis Elimination Caucus in the U.S. House is Cause to Celebrate for TB Activists
David Bryden, Stop TB Advocacy Officer
October 02, 2012
The formation of the Tuberculosis Elimination Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives has been cause for celebration among TB activists. A caucus is an informal grouping of legislators which can help rally interest and enthusiasm on an issue of mutual concern, by sponsoring briefings, initiating letters and inquiries, and more.
The Caucus can help us ensure the Obama Administration pushes forward on TB, prepare new legislation, and keep an eye out on prices charged by pharmaceutical companies. The Caucus can help break down stigma about the problem by encouraging public discussion, which is crucial because TB can lead to social isolation and rejection by friends and family.
Has your legislator joined the Caucus? Check this list to find out! We urgently need more legislators to join.
The caucus was formed in March, 2012 by Representatives Engel (D-NJ), Green (D-TX) and Young (R-AK), whose states have all been impacted by tuberculosis. In fact, the states of Texas and New York, together with California and Florida, account for half of the approximately 11,000 reported cases of active TB in the US.
Since its formation the TB Elimination Caucus has sponsored a resolution commending the progress made by anti-tuberculosis programs (H. Res. 594) and sent letters to House appropriators and to USAID urging strong support for global TB funding.
Some key members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American caucus have joined the TB Elimination Caucus. In 2011, Asians became the largest single racial/ethnic group represented among TB cases, with a case rate 25 times that of non-Hispanic whites. About one-third of the foreign-born persons with TB originated from the Philippines, Vietnam, India, and China. (In March a Filipino-American mother from Texas, whose daughter developed a very serious case of TB, told her personal story)
The Hispanic Caucus has also contributed members. Latinos have the second largest percentage (29%) of reported TB cases in the United States. (Be sure to watch Rachel Orduno, from Texas, tell her personal story of TB.) Latinos also have a higher rate of diabetes, compared to white Americans, and people with diabetes have a 2-3 times higher risk of TB compared to people without diabetes.
In starting the caucus, the founders of the caucus noted that drug resistant TB poses a particular challenge due to drug shortages and exorbitant treatment costs in the US, which range from $100,000 to $300,000 per patient. In July, the Caucus sponsored a briefing in Congress in which Tennessee native Natalie Nelson told the harrowing story of her struggle with drug resistant TB. Tragically, drug resistant TB is expanding globally, and very few people are accessing appropriate treatment.
Even for much more common, drug sensitive TB, it can be an enormous challenge to access affordable and reliable supplies of medication, including in the US. Last year scientists showed that a shorter, combination regimen, taken weekly for three months, was just as effective as a daily antibiotic for nine months for people who have tuberculosis but aren't infectious, which affects about 11 million people in the US. But, the shorter regimen includes the costly drug rifapentine, made by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, and has been very difficult for health programs in the US, such as in New York, to afford.