Wanted: A plan for drug-resistant TB, and funds to make it work

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More than 600 physicians and scientists called on President Obama in a letter Tuesday to release a national plan for research and programming needed to fight the spread of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis at home and abroad, and to back the plan with a budget proposal that allots the dollars necessary to effect it.

“We stand ready to work with the president, and to support the enactment of a global plan,” said Dr. Carol Dukes Hamilton, in a statement accompanying release of the letter. Dr. Hamilton serves as co-chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Center for Global Health Policy, which produces this blog.

Their request comes more than seven months after the White House release of its National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, which included tuberculosis that is resistant to first lines of treatment as one of five “serious threats” to public health. The release of that plan was accompanied by an announcement that a companion plan, specifically targeting drug-resistant TB would be released later this year.

Last week, as the World Health Organization released its 2015 Global TB Report showing that just one in four of the estimated nearly half million patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis were diagnosed last year, and that nearly a quarter of those diagnosed went untreated for want of available, affordable, appropriate medicine, the status of  the promised national plan remained a question.

“You need a national plan that is funded,” Dr. Mario Raviglione of WHO’s TB Program department said.

In turn, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, of USAID asserted a plan had been produced and was being vetted by agencies that would put it into action, adding “the White House is close to releasing it.”

With the year’s end drawing near, however, worries circulated that the document was being delayed, at least in part, by recognition that it would require funding. The White House has proposed cuts to funding for TB programs in the last few previous years.

“As physicians and researchers responding to tuberculosis at home and around the world,” the statement accompanying release of the letter Tuesday said, “we are concerned that the end of the year is approaching with no announcement of a plan, or of a commitment to fund the work and resources necessary to reverse the tide of multidrug-resistant disease. The costs of delay will far outweigh the costs of taking the necessary steps now to align research, programming and surveillance to end the scourge of tuberculosis once and for all.”

The letter can be viewed and downloaded here.

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