The following editorial appeared in the Miami Herald on Wednesday, March 31 2010:
A new report by the World Health Organization details how drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis are raising the stakes to combat this contagious disease worldwide.
A global epidemic -- and security threat -- is in the making if this airborne disease is not attacked swiftly and with precision. For South Florida, an international hub for tourists and immigrants, the threat is real.
Unfortunately, President Obama's budget proposal this year would cut $50 million from a $4 billion, five-year plan to fight TB globally and flatlines money for domestic TB-fighting programs. That's a turnaround from the Bush administration, which pushed through record levels of support to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2008. This is no time to retreat.
On average, the global fund saves 3,600 lives a day, but, still, 1.7 million people die each year from TB because it goes untreated.
U.S. statistics show the number of TB cases decreased in this country by 11.4 percent in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but the rate for immigrants continues to be higher. Rates in parts of Russia, in African countries like Lesotho and in our hemisphere -- Haiti, Mexico and the Dominican Republic -- are spiking, particularly in rural regions. They need more labs to conduct TB tests and ensure the right antibiotics are tackling ever tougher strains.
Urgency matters now because new antibiotic-resistant strains of TB are emerging. New types of drugs need to be developed that can treat extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, known as XDR-TB. So far, 58 nations have reported XDR-TB cases, and, more troublesome, there are another 79 countries that didn't track cases, so it's anyone's guess. Whether rich or poor, TB strikes indiscriminately. This is a global battle, and the United States should be leading the way -- not retreating from this menace.