The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Fighting tuberculosis


OUR OPINION: U.S. needs to help poor countries against TB

Tuberculosis is the world’s most deadly curable infectious disease, killing 1.4 million people annually. Yet fighting TB and other contagious diseases doesn’t have to break the bank.

A two-hour test can detect whether a person is resistant to a certain type of TB drug, allowing a doctor to prescribe the correct drug. The medication costs $50 at most.

But when improper tests occur, a person given wrong drugs can build up multi-drug resistance to TB, which becomes “virtually untreatable,” according to doctors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria has determined that there is a $1.6 billion annual gap in funding. This affects 17 million TB patients across 118 low and middle-income countries.

The efforts by the United States to combat the disease thus far would be for naught if the funds do not keep on flowing. We need to continue to aid poor countries in preventing this highly contagious disease.

RESULTS, a group dedicated to fighting global poverty, says that TB is “getting smarter, more dangerous and more difficult to treat.”

And that does not bode well for Americans, as people infected with TB who travel internationally put others at risk — like the case of a Nepalese man who traveled through 13 countries before being detained by immigration officials and finally quarantined in Texas earlier this month.

The Obama administration and Congress need to continue to support the U.S. commitment to the Global Fund.

The money should not be held hostage to a budget impasse in the current sequestration fight between the White House and conservatives in Congress.

We may still face a wavering though improving economy and reduced budget because of the sequester, but a problem plaguing the poor in Third World countries can easily become a problem for Americans if the disease spreads and builds up resistance.

Other donor countries are matching two dollars for every U.S. dollar we give, so there’s an opportunity to close the gap.

The scourge of TB already is making inroads in American cities. In Los Angeles, health officials are battling a TB outbreak among the homeless.

As we commemorate World TB Day on Sunday, our leaders should vow to eradicate TB. It’s a global fight that protects Americans.

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