Statement: Lung Association Calls on Congress to Respond to Tuberculosis

Statement of Norman H. Edelman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer

(June 8, 2007)

Recent press coverage surrounding a patient with extremely drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) boarding a plane and potentially exposing hundreds of people to this disease highlights the urgent need for Congress to address this ongoing health problem.  Tuberculosis (TB) is a preventable and curable disease but when neglected or in its drug-resistant form, it can have devastating public health consequences.  Funding for tuberculosis programs and research must be increased so that new tools can be given to medical professionals to combat TB.

Each year about 1.7 million people around the world die from tuberculosis and unfortunately, the number of TB cases is increasing worldwide. As of 2004, there were 14.6 million cases worldwide – and thousands of new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.  TB is a persistent killer in the world and new strains are making their presence known both here and abroad in a fatal new form. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, also referred to as Extreme Drug Resistant TB or XDR-TB, has been identified in all regions of the world, including the United States. At this time, XDR-TB is essentially incurable. Therefore, the key to control is prevention.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually attacks the lungs, but can attack almost any part of the body. It is spread from person to person through the air and remains a leading infectious disease cause of death worldwide – even though the disease is both preventable and, in most cases, treatable.

The American Lung Association calls on Congress to take three key steps to combat TB:

  1. Increase funding for tuberculosis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to $252 million.   The CDC and its partners in state health departments need adequate resources to control TB.  The funds would support the public health infrastructure needed to address TB and greatly enhance CDC’s role in combating domestically and globally.
  2. Pass the bipartisan Comprehensive TB Elimination Act, H.R. 1532/ S1551, that will expand research sponsored by the CDC on the safety and efficacy of new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, and fund studies of populations at risk for TB.  It will also authorize and expand CDC demonstration activities on TB elimination, including targeted efforts to prevent, detect and treat the disease among African Americans and foreign-born persons in the U.S.  Importantly, the legislation also expands research, including study of the relationship between TB and HIV/AIDS, and research-training programs at the National Institutes of Health while also authorize funding for the "Blueprint Plan for TB Vaccine Development".
  3. Pass the Bipartisan Stop TB Now Act, S.968/H.R.1567 that addresses the extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB emergency by implementing the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) plan for controlling tuberculosis globally.  The WHO plan seeks to cut the TB deaths and disease burden in half by 2015 and eliminate TB as a global health problem by 2050.  The legislation would also strengthen the United States’ role in international TB control by increasing funding for international TB control and supporting international TB control activities at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and at the CDC.  Those activities include expanding directly observed treatment short-course (DOTS) coverage, strengthening health systems, and promoting the International Standards of TB Care. 

The American Lung Association was founded in 1904 to fight tuberculosis.  At the time, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the U.S. and one of the most dread diseases in the world.  While much progress has been made in stemming its deadly toll, now is not the time for complacency.  This three pronged approach addresses immediate needs by increasing the investment in our public health system and putting new tools in place both in the United States and around the globe to move us closer to our goal of eradicating this lethal disease.

About the American Lung Association
Beginning our second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Lung disease death rates continue to increase while other leading causes of death have declined. The American Lung Association funds vital research on the causes of and treatments for lung disease. With the generous support of the public, the American Lung Association is “Improving life, one breath at a time.” For more information about the American Lung Association or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or log on to www.lung.org.