Presidential candidates pledge to fight tuberculosis

Activists sign letter asking for presidential TB initiative to turn words into actions

Washington, DC (October 7, 2008) — Both major presidential candidates issued statements last week pledging to fight tuberculosis globally by funding treatment and prevention efforts.

"When I am president, I will strengthen the health care infrastructure crucial to reducing the spread of tuberculosis and increase U.S. funding for the Global Fund - a partnership that's already saved millions of lives from HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB," said Sen. Barack Obama. "We'll meet the Millennium Development Goals, which include halving the number of tuberculosis deaths. And we will live up to our commitment to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a successful program that my running mate Joe Biden and I have long supported."

"As president," Obama said, "I will live up to our commitment to fighting this epidemic."

"The lives of citizens of nations around the globe will be less prosperous and fulfilling without help to combat entrenched problems, such as tuberculosis, which afflicts poorer nations severely. It is critical that we face this crisis head-on with a committed global partnership," said Sen. John McCain, "As president, I will ensure that treatment and prevention programs are funded at levels befitting a wealthy and great nation. I will have a sustained commitment to helping people in need in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere cope with the ravages of this devastating disease."

The candidates issued the statements following the unveiling of a series of powerful photographs taken by renowned photographer James Nachtwey depicting the ravages of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis. The photographs are the result of Mr. Nachtwey's receipt of the 2007 TED Prize. In receiving that prize, Nachtwey made a TED "wish" to bring worldwide visibility to the emerging crisis of XDR-TB. His photographs were projected in Times Square Friday night and displayed in major public spaces in 50 other cities on all seven continents, and will be online at xdrtb.org.

Though the statements stopped short of committing to a major presidential initiative, global health activists were pleased with the acknowledgement of TB as a major threat.

"This is an excellent first step in acknowledging the importance of fighting TB worldwide; TB is both a global health threat and engine of poverty" said Joanne Carter, executive director of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund, an advocacy group that addresses issues of global health and poverty and has worked to bring greater attention to TB. "What is needed now is a powerful plan for action against TB, similar to the Presidential AIDS Initiative and Presidential Malaria Initiative. Decades of progress in global health stand to be undone if we do not act now."

Working with Mr. Nachtwey and the TED prize organizers, RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund recently launched a campaign asking people who view the slideshow online to write to the presidential candidates asking them to announce a TB initiative upon taking office, and asking those outside the U.S, to write to the leaders of the G8 countries. So far, the campaign has gained thousands of signatures.