Tuberculosis fight needs national attention

Posted: Monday, July 31, 2000

The following editorial appeared in the July 25 edition of the Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska powerhouse Sen. Ted Stevens has joined the fight against tuberculosis worldwide.

Sen. Stevens and Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii are co-sponsors of the Stop Tuberculosis (TB) Now Act in the Senate, which would authorize $100 million over the next two years for treating TB internationally and controlling its multidrug resistant varieties. Both senators know well the importance of hitting TB hard; Alaska and Hawaii are ranked fourth and first respectively in per-capita cases of active TB, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Longtime TB-control advocate Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is sponsor of the House version of the bill.

Efforts to stop TB in wealthy, developed countries like the United States are futile in the long run unless we also combat the disease in the impoverished countries in which it thrives.

When medical personnel in countries without adequate health services treat patients without using the most effective method, the directly observed treatment, short-course (known by its acronym DOTS), they risk creating a plague of even greater dimensions in the development of drug-resistant strains. One hot zone of TB and multidrug resistant TB is Alaska's neighbor the Russian Far East.

TB travels easily and well across all borders. Though legal immigrants to the United States must usually produce a chest X-ray that shows no TB, college students and tourists enter without such requirements. And, of course, illegal immigrants don't bother with any bureaucratic requirements. Americans may be infected when they travel to countries where TB is rampant.

TB experts know that to control TB anywhere, you have to control TB everywhere.

As Sen. Stevens said in his introduction to the bill: ``Even in our country, where the medical community can readily identify and treat MDR-TB (multidrug resistant TB), half the patients still die. These are patients using MDR-TB drugs. According to the World Health Organization, in another three to five years, without a comprehensive prevention and treatment strategy, drug-resistant strains of TB will be the dominant form of the disease. Time is of the essence.''

The Stop TB Now Act, in the U.S. Senate and in the House, deserves the full support of Congress and citizens alike. We know what to do to stop TB. Let's do it.

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