Today is: Tue, May 21, 2013
Take A Stand Against T.B.
MANILA, Philippines — On March 24, the United Nations and the World Health Organization commemorate World TB Day. On this day, the global community celebrates the discovery of the cause of this disease, which led to the eventual development of a cure. It is also a day on which we remember that TB remains epidemic in large swaths of the developing world, and that it is still a virulent danger to global health. We recognize on this day that TB is not a forgotten disease or an insignificant threat – it is an ongoing and continuing challenge to our health and our future.
Almost two billion people – nearly one in three people alive today – carry the bacteria that cause this disease, while nearly one in ten of these people will develop an active case of TB. In 2010 alone, more than 8.8 million people were infected with the disease, and more than 1.4 million people died from it. This equates to nearly 3 people dying from TB every minute of every day of the year. A staggering 95 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world, and roughly half of all of these deaths are in Asia.
The United States has an active and continuing interest in promoting global health initiatives. The health of the global population impacts security and economic prosperity for every nation. Thus, cooperation with our partners, including the Philippines, to combat global diseases like TB is not only a step forward in pursuit of global health, it is an expression of our most closely held values, and evidence of our interest in building and maintaining strong relationships with our friends.
In 2009, President Obama announced the United States’ Global Health Initiative, through which he recognized that when confronted by a global health epidemic, “We cannot wall ourselves off from the world and hope for the best, nor ignore the public health challenges beyond our borders.” The Global Health Initiative is designed to address a challenge made greater by the interconnectedness of our world – that disease and illness know no borders. It is for that reason that I urge all citizens to recognize the importance of eradicating TB.
Our two nations have teamed up to fight TB and we have made great strides together. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is working hand-in-hand with the government of the Philippines to bring about tangible progress in the fight against the spread of TB. For the past 15 years, USAID has provided assistance to the Philippine National TB Control Program. The Linking Initiatives and Networking to Control TB Project (TB LINC) is funded by USAID to support the Philippine Government’s goal of halving TB prevalence and mortality in the country by 2015. USAID has also helped enable the development and issuance of national, sectoral and local policies to fight TB, the most significant of which is the 2010-2016 Philippine Plan of Action to Control TB (PhilPACT), which is now the overarching framework of the National TB Control Program.
Working together, we have seen significant progress. Over the last twenty years, mortality and prevalence rates have declined significantly, and detection rates – a key to treating the disease effectively – have increased. But more can and must be done. This is not a single battle; it is a sustained campaign against a determined foe. While cure rates increased to nearly 90 percent in 2011, the wide variation in success rates across the different regions of the Philippines poses a significant challenge. Moreover, the incident rate, while down significantly from 1990, has increased slightly in recent years.
Tuberculosis doesn’t just affect health – it affects relationships. Perhaps the most tangible evidence of how TB affects the relationship between our two countries is the number of Filipino immigrant visa applicants who are unable to travel in a timely manner because their applications have been delayed by TB concerns. The Immigrant Visa section in the US Embassy in Manila is one of the largest in the world; every year, we approve more than sixty thousand immigrant visa applications for Filipinos wishing to join their families in the United States. But not all of the numbers are positive.
Every year, the immigration cases of roughly fifteen percent of all applicants are delayed because they require further testing, diagnosis or treatment for active TB. According to immigration law, if an applicant for a US visa has untreated or contagious TB, he or she must be refused a US visa on public health grounds. In fact, active TB is the number one health-related reason for the refusal of immigrant visas in the Philippines.
We in the United States wish to continue to facilitate legitimate travel and legal immigration. For this reason, we cannot allow preventable sickness to impede our development, our security, or our futures. We should not stand idly by as families are separated and dreams are put on hold. We can all be agents of change and play a part in halting the spread of this terrible disease.
The Philippines has recognized the threat posed by this disease and is on track to reach Millennium Development Goals for case detection and treatment. The United States supports these efforts through our USAID programs and partnerships. Today, I ask you to recognize this threat as well. And today, I ask you to take action against TB.
You can participate in reducing the prevalence of this disease here in the Philippines. By learning more about TB – how it is contracted, how it is spread, and how it is fought – you increase awareness and public knowledge. By encouraging friends and family members to be vigilant and to practice simple preventive steps, you become part of the cure. To learn more about how you can be involved, please visit StopTB.org, the US Embassy Facebook page, or the USAID/Philippines Facebook page, where you can find out more about the threat of TB, and how to participate in eradicating this disease from the Philippines and from the world. Together, we can all take a stand against TB. Sama-sama, mapipigilan ang TB.