– As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today gave the following remarks on fighting tuberculosis at a Management Sciences for Health event on Capitol Hill. The remarks come just one day before World Tuberculosis Day:
“It’s really a pleasure to be here. Dr. Suarez, thank you, the Global Technical Lead for TB and head of the Infectious Disease Unit at the Management Sciences for Health, thank you for your kind introduction and thank you for the good work that you do.
“I want to especially thank the Management Sciences for Health for their excellent efforts in combating infectious diseases—and in particular for shining a spotlight on the ongoing challenge of TB—tuberculosis.
“On the Energy and Commerce Committee we have a health Committee, a health Subcommittee, and we’ve really been able to accomplish a number of things through the years by working hard, putting our heads together, and it’s really a pleasure to be on that Committee. Healthcare is the cutting edge of everything and as you know, we’re debating all that now.
“But tomorrow is World Tuberculosis Day. And it’s a day on which we assess the progress we’ve made in our efforts to fight TB, and take stock of what more needs to be done in order to help us achieve our goal. And our goal, of course, is eradicating this disease by the year 2030. It’s curable and it’s preventable, and we need to do that. 2030 is not a long time away—thirteen years.
“It’s a common misunderstanding to think of tuberculosis as a disease that’s quickly becoming part of the past. We’ve made noteworthy strides in the fight against tuberculosis. But, this disease still remains the world’s number-one infectious killer.
“To be sure, we’ve seen tremendous improvements. Between 2000 and 2014, effective diagnosis and treatment of TB accounted for 43 million lives saved all around the globe.
“And since I came to Congress nearly 27 years ago, the world TB death rate dropped by nearly 50 percent. And here in the United States, the number of annual deaths due to tuberculosis has dropped by two-thirds since 1992. That’s a great statistics. And we should be keeping on that statistics, and even accelerating it.
“So we now know how to diagnose the disease. We know how to cure it. So in some ways, we seem to be heading in the right direction when it comes to wiping out this infectious killer by 2030.
“What always just galls me is when you have a disease that we know how to cure, and we can’t get the prevention, we can’t get the taking care of people who are ill.
“So people die when they could have been saved. That’s really a double tragedy. You know, it’s a tragedy when anyone dies obviously. It’s a tragedy when anyone dies for healthcare reasons or for lack of healthcare. But when you know how to cure it, and we simply can’t get that knowledge over to the people who are sick until they die, I can’t think of nothing worse, quite frankly.
“So we know how to cure it and we want to wipe it out by 2030. But yet in 2015, more than 10 million people became infected and two million died.
“In addition to this tremendous human toll, TB also has long-lasting economic impacts. Countries hardest hit by this disease see their growth, their GDP shrink by four to seven percent.
“So we still have a long way to go, and our momentum is jeopardized by a lack of funding. The World Health Organization reports that TB control is hugely underfunded.
“I wish he’d talk to the President of the United States, he seems to be underfunding everything these days. This threatens to–I couldn’t resist, I’m sorry. This threatens to erase decades of the progress we’ve seen—much of which has been achieved with U.S. support.
“So what will it really take to wipe out this disease once and for all?
“Reaffirming our commitment to put our best tools to use, developing better diagnostic tests so patients can be identified sooner, developing less toxic drugs to ensure that patients stay on treatment—obviously if it’s toxic and someone gets sick or feels sick after taking the medication it’s a disincentive for them to take it—and pairing our commitments with robust funding.
“Can’t do it without the money folks. And I can’t think of any better way to spend money than to help someone stay alive or to cure a disease that we know how to cure and get it to as many people as we can.
“So as legislators and advocates, we need to stay focused and finish the job. We need to be clear-eyed about the challenges that remain, set ambitious goals, and do whatever it takes—with whatever resources we have available—to reach those aims.
“So remember, tuberculosis is preventable. It’s curable. And so, it should also be erasable.
“And I want you to know, I remain committed to this effort and so do a lot of good people on both sides of the aisle who feel strongly about this.
“Now I authored the top, Stop TB Now Act, much of which became law in 2008. This law provided resources to improve the availability of TB treatments and enhance countries’ ability to address TB among their populations. And I’m currently leading two letters to appropriators with my TB Elimination Caucus co-chairs, Rep. Don Young and Rep. Gene Green, in support of TB control in the U.S. and abroad.
“As we’ve seen across the world, healthier communities are stronger and more prosperous. So for me, this is both a global health and a foreign policy priority.
“I’m the Ranking Member, as you know, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and also serve on the health Subcommittee, so for me it’s a win-win to attack things like this.
“So let me say in conclusion as we find ourselves at a critical juncture in the fight against TB, it’s time we finally make use of our resources and foster the political will necessary to wipe out TB once and for all.
“I thank you again for your tireless commitment for this important effort. I thank you for listening to me. And we’re all in this together and working together we’re going to save a lot, a lot of lives. Thank you.”