World TB Day 2012: Bold Advocacy, Inspiring Events

May 16, 2012
by David Bryden, Stop TB Advocacy Officer

In the lead up to World TB Day (March 24) the stark reality of TB was boldly brought to light here in Washington DC. While tuberculosis calls to mind images from another century of people dying “consumption,” in fact, TB is here among us, killing about 4000 people a day and pushing many people into poverty.

RESULTS, and many partner organizations, sponsored a number of events to bring TB into the debate on spending priorities. For me, the highlight of the week of observance was the strong voice of former TB patients telling harrowing stories of how TB had affected their lives and their loved ones.

These patient-advocates delivered a clear message to policy-makers: Enough is enough, it’s to devote the resources and energy needed to make TB something for the history books, not a present-day killer.

I asked one of our visitors, Rosalie Stephson, what she would say about TB if she had five minutes with President Obama. Originally from the Philippines and now living in Texas, Rosalie is the mother of a 14 year old girl, Faith, who had a very serious case of TB. Rosalie replied:

“I would tell him that every kid has a right to have a healthy life. I don’t want children to experience what my daughter experienced, losing five years of her life to TB. In the first two months of her treatment she had to take 14 pills a day, and it hurt her stomach. I was getting sick seeing my child going through this. So, I would ask him to give more support for TB, raise awareness and help find better treatments.”

Unfortunately, President Obama did not make a statement recognizing World TB Day, and he recently proposed a funding reduction for USAID’s TB program, so we clearly have more work to drive home the urgency of this issue.

In fact, people around the world are depending on us to beat the drum. One of the visiting patients from Ethiopia told us how hard it was to get through two years of chemotherapy for drug resistant TB. Several patients being treated along with him killed themselves because of the side-effects of the medication.

Let’s take a page from the HIV/AIDS advocates’ playbook. President Obama has clearly been inspired by the latest research showing the preventive benefit of AIDS treatment. So too, thrilling developments in TB medication, together with revolutionary innovations in TB diagnosis and the prospect of an effective vaccine, could inspire him on TB!

Experts from TB Alliance have shared the exciting news that better drugs are indeed on the horizon. They are developing new medications that would be less costly and take much less time to cure TB, including drug resistant TB. Strong backing from the US government will be needed to get these drugs through the final tests.

We saw signs of progress. USAID Administrator Raj Shah met with RESULTS and other TB advocates last week and he showed real enthusiasm for innovation on TB. A high level official at USAID, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, also spoke with us about the need for bold thinking on TB, noting that, “We can aim for an end game for TB within a generation.”

The US House of Representatives is also catching the wave. A Resolution on TB. More members of the House are needed to join this caucus and co-sponsor the Resolution.

You can be a part of the momentum building on TB! Ask your member of Congress to join the TB Caucus by contacting Heidi Ross in Rep. Eliot Engel’s office, Nathaniel Tipton in Rep. Green’s office or Paul Milotte in Rep. Don Young’s office.

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