Tuberculosis (TB) is the number one infectious disease killer in the world, surpassing even HIV. During World TB Day, March 24, the Congressional TB Elimination Caucus joined the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and National Tuberculosis Controllers Association (NTCA) for a Capitol Hill briefing featuring a panel of physicians and a patient advocate. Ya Diul Mukadi, M.D., MPH, senior TB technical advisor at the Bureau for Global Health at USAID said while the incidence of TB has decreased by 43% globally since 1990, the disease claims 1.5 million lives annually. “We still have plenty of work to do and we still have major challenges we continue to face.” He mentioned the work of health agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce TB incidence by 90% and find treatments for multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) by 2035.
Carrie Fritschy, an advocate and mother of Scarlett, a TB survivor, explained that it took nearly five months for her daughter to be properly diagnosed and treated for the disease. “There is hope,” she said. “It is curable, treatable, and preventable, but we need the funding to make sure that happens not only locally, but in the United States.” Philip LoBue, M.D., director of the TB Elimination Division of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the CDC, said that despite its rarity, TB is nowhere near eradication in the U.S. with 3.0 per 100,000 cases domestically. Furthermore, 2015 saw the first increase in 22 years in the number of TB cases in the U.S. Dr. LoBue stressed the importance of expanding efforts to reduce latent TB infection through research. “As long as TB is a global problem, we will have issues with TB in the United States. Anything we can do globally to help reduce TB will [also] benefit the United States.”
Jeffrey Starke, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, said the diagnosis and treatment of TB lacks innovation and the methods we use today remain archaic compared to other areas of medicine. Dr. Starke emphasized the importance of investing in TB research, despite its infrequency in the U.S. “Ironically, because we are a low incidence country, we are often neglected in terms of money available for programs, research, and drug development.” He urged Congress to fund the White House’s National Action Plan for Combating MDR-TB and to support TB research at the National Institutes of Health.