Global Laser Talk March 2010

WHO Multidrug-Resistant TB Media Pitch Script

On March 23, public health officials are going to release their most comprehensive report ever on multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) — a deadly airborne disease that is resistant to many of the standard anti-TB drugs.

The report documents the highest rates of MDR-TB that we have ever seen. The report is also noteworthy for what it does not include. Even though it is the most comprehensive report to date, 40 percent of the world still has no way to detect MDR-TB. Haiti is one of the countries with no MDR-TB surveillance and recent reports in the media have shown that MDR-TB is expected to become an even greater problem there following the devastating earthquake.

The broader story here is that after eight years of serious investment in TB — and AIDS and malaria — by the Bush administration, President Obama is letting these critical issues fall off the agenda. This startling new data needs to serve as a wake-up call to the U.S. government. We must take urgent action to address this airborne killer for two reasons. The first is we must avoid outbreaks of MDR-TB here in the United States. In the late 1980s, a lack of investment in TB control led to a huge outbreak of MDR-TB in New York City. The outbreak affected tens of thousands of people and cost more than a $1 billion to reign in. We must not let our guard down again.

The second reason is that we have a moral obligation to help people when we can. We can cure regular TB before it becomes MDR-TB with drugs that cost around $20. It is in our self-interest to do so and it is a moral imperative. On March 23, there will be a national media conference call featuring top officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Will you join that call?