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Tuberculosis

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, every day an estimated 4,400 lives are lost around the world to tuberculosis--day in, day out, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Fifteen lives will be lost, roughly, in the few minutes of my remarks.

Tuberculosis is an urgent global crisis that demands our attention and our response. Two billion people--two billion people--one-third of the world's population, carry around with them the tuberculosis bacterium. As many as 10 million to 15 million in the United States alone are infected with the TB bacterium. Most will not get sick, but many of them are in some jeopardy.

Nine million people, practically the population of my State of Ohio, become sick with active tuberculosis every year, and 1.6 million people will die.

We struggle with many diseases that are beyond our scientific understanding, but tuberculosis is not one of them. These deaths are preventable. TB is the greatest curable infectious killer worldwide.

Much of the good work of the legislation this Senate passed last night will be undermined if we do not do a better job of controlling tuberculosis. Our investments in development will do little to improve economic conditions if entire populations--as are so many in Africa, especially, and India, especially--are reeling from this disease.

Combating TB is fundamental to sustaining economic development in poor countries. My colleagues know this.

Congress--following the leadership of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman, PAT LEAHY, and ranking member, JUDD GREGG--has made great strides in investing greater resources in global health. Diseases such as HIV and malaria have received tremendous increases over the past several years, and I hope this trend will continue.

Last night, the Senate did something about this. The amendment I offered last night, with Senators BROWNBACK, DURBIN, BOXER, and SMITH, added $90 million in funding for our international efforts against tuberculosis, bringing total spending to $200 million. Undoubtedly, that will save lives.

Combating TB must go hand in hand with the fight against HIV. Up to 50 percent of people who are HIV positive develop tuberculosis. As many as half the deaths from HIV in Africa actually are deaths from tuberculosis. It is the leading cause of death among people who are HIV positive all over the world.

HIV infection weakens a person's immune system, making it 50 times more likely that person will develop active tuberculosis. So if someone is carrying the TB bacterium in their body--as is a third of the world's people--if they get infected with HIV or have some other disease or weakness--from malnutrition or something else--they are much more likely to develop active tuberculosis.

To compound that, unchecked, drug-resistant tuberculosis, including deadly XDR-TB, threatens to reverse progress made against AIDS and TB worldwide. In today's world, extensively drug-resistant TB--so-called XDR-TB--poses a grave public health threat never more than a plane ride away.

This past June, we got a wakeup call when an American boarded a plane to Europe while infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis. Luckily, his was not the most virulent strain. But his example shows us clearly that this disease does affect America and that more resources for TB are needed to prevent, identify, treat, and control extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.

We need to heed that wakeup call and act before it is too late. It is within our power. There is no mystery here. We know what to do. We know how to treat and cure regular so-called garden-variety tuberculosis. We know how to treat and cure multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in an overwhelming majority of cases. And we know how to treat, generally, extensively drug-resistant--XDR-TB--tuberculosis and cure people of that.

It is within our means. Treating regular, garden-variety TB costs only $20 per person. It is a small price to pay to save our lives.

I thank my colleagues, including the junior Senator from Pennsylvania for his support of this issue. Last night was a victory for people in the developing world who are so often victims of tuberculosis, who so often suffer from that. It is also a victory for people in our country, a few of whom have TB, but most--but the many more people who are a plane ride away or are potentially exposed to this tuberculosis bacteria.

I thank my colleagues.


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