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Without money, effort to stop TB becomes ‘another plan on the shelf’

An Indian doctor examines a tuberculosis patient in a government TB hospital. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Without adequate funding, it may be ‘impossible’ to stop drug-resistant tuberculosis, 14 senators warned in a letter to President Barack Obama. The senators, including Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer, and Sherrod Brown, want money for the recently launched National Action Plan to Address Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis.

Slowing down the progress of drug-resistant tuberculosis may be “impossible” if there is not adequate money, warned a group of U.S. Senators to President Barack Obama. A letter signed by 7 Senators, including Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer, and Sherrod Brown, seeks more funding in support of the recently launched National Action Plan to Address Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis.

“The activities described in the National Action Plan are all contingent on the receipt of funding necessary to implement these programs and strengthen our efforts,” according to the letter. “Implementation of the National Action Plan should be rabid and ambitious. Without an increase in funding, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to quickly execute the plan.”

It comes as the White House is putting together its budget proposal for 2017 fiscal year. The senators applaud the overarching goals set forward by the plan that was launched a few weeks ago. The action plan lays out ways to deal with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) by improving health systems and by supporting research and development of new treatments and testing tools. Making these improvements, the senators argue, requires proper financial backing, something the White House has been reluctant to provide for TB.

Congress has rejected recent budget proposals from the White House that cut U.S. funding for TB. But holding the line is not enough, the senators argue. They warn that the gains made over the past two decades in reducing TB deaths could quickly erode if more is not done soon. The infectious disease kills 1.5 million people each year, making it deadlier than both malaria and HIV/AIDS. Despite that, it commands far less public attention and financial support.

“Too often Washington has failed to give TB the attention and the resources that it demands,” said Sen. Brown at the action plan launch. “Without funding, it’s just another plan on the shelf.”

A similar group of senators wrote to Obama in August, when the administration made a preliminary announcement about the National Action Plan. The letter welcomed the announcement and offered a group of advocates in the government who could support its development and realization. They called for a forward-thinking plan that would have the necessary financial backing to become actionable.

The final unveiling of the National Action Plan was met with general support from the senators and TB advocates. They too pointed out that the plan is incomplete if there is not enough money.

“As negotiations are underway for the fiscal year 2017 budget, this plan must pave the way for an ambitious funding request … new data from the WHO makes clear, we have no time to waste,” said Joanne Carter, executive director of  the advocacy organization RESULTS, to the media. “The new MDR-TB plan is a critical step in scaling up ambition to tackle MDR-TB. If it proposes the funding to make this plan a reality, the Obama Administration can leave a lasting legacy in the fight against this devastating epidemic.”

Roughly 9 million people get TB each year and some 2 billion carry the bacterium. The spread of multidrug-resistant TB is particularly concerning given that millions of people unknowingly get TB each year, leaving themselves and others at risk. Current treatments can only do so much before resistance eventually renders them ineffective.

Ending TB in the U.S. and abroad is in the country’s national interest. The senators again offered support to the White House to ensure that adequate support is behind the National Action Plan, and said that now it is on the Obama administration to ask for more funding to back its own plan.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]