MDR-TB Photos Displayed in U.S. Capitol

June 19, 2009
by Robyn Shepherd, RESULTS Communications Officer

It is one thing to tell members of Congress about the suffering caused by deadly diseases like tuberculosis in the world’s poorest countries. It is another thing to bring graphic evidence of the horror of TB to the esteemed halls of the greatest legislative building in the country.

The U.S. Capitol recently hosted a powerful exhibit of photographs by award-winning photojournalist James Nachtwey of patients suffering from extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB around the world. The gripping black and white photographs were displayed first at a reception attended by lawmakers, activists, and pharmaceutical companies; and also in the Rotunda of the Capitol building, June 10–11.

Photojournalist James Nachtwey speaking at the TB photo exhibitMr. Nachtwey spent a year documenting XDR-TB as a recipient of the prestigious TED Prize. TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design), awards $100,000 to three people each year who want to “make a wish to change the world.” Mr. Nachtwey, a noted war photographer, wished to document a global health crisis that desparately needed reporting. He chose XDR-TB, a highly dangerous form of TB that emerged in recent years due to inattention to treating “normal” tuberculosis before it mutated into a more drug-resistant form. 40,000 cases of XDR-TB are estimated to occur annually. Overall, 1.7 million people each year die of some form of tuberculosis.

The exhibit at the Capitol was sponsored by TED, the citizens’ advocacy group RESULTS, and the pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly and BD. At the event Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who was instrumental in getting the Stop TB Now Act passed as part of the PEPFAR reauthorization last year and securing $4 billion in TB investment, praised the groups for their work in fighting TB and Mr. Nachtwey for capturing the human toll of the disease. “Most members of Congress have no idea how many people are dying of this,” he said. “We can move in the right direction, we can do what we need to do, but there’s still so much work to be done.”

In response to the underfunded TB epidemic, Representatives Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Don Young (R-AK) are circulating a letter this week in support of increased appropriations for global TB programs.

RESULTS Executive Director Joanne Carter speaking at the TB photo exhibitAnother member of Congress who has long been an advocate for fighting global TB, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), also spoke. He told of the trips he had taken with RESULTS’ executive director to TB clinics in the prisons of Moscow, and the critical role activists play in fighting the disease. He praised RESULTS activists as “people that care about their communities fighting for something they care about, and putting this issue on the national agenda with members of Congress…who basically do what they tell us to do!”

Mr. Nachtwey hoped that his photographs would inspire compassion for those living with XDR-TB. “Because people are suffering, does not mean they don’t express dignity. If people are afraid, it does not mean they lack courage. When people are in pain, it does not mean they don’t have hope,” he said.

“I’ve seen people who literally have nothing left, yet they continue to struggle. They have not given up. And if they don’t give up, how could anyone in the outside world ever dream of losing hope?”

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