Today is World TB Day, when countries around the world focus on the problem of tuberculosis, a disease that still kills about 1.7 million people per year. This year, World TB Day falls at a time of financial uncertainty and fear for the future of our economy. During this period of financial crisis for even the richest countries in the world, we in the United States may be tempted to turn inward and look only at our own needs and problems. Of course we must find ways to help American families that have lost their homes and American workers who have lost their jobs. But at the same time, we should not overlook our global family for the sake of our security. Just a little attention and help can enhance national security while simultaneously upholding the dignity of our fellow human beings.

Typical TB can be treated with a cheap six-month program of two or three medications, but the increasingly common, multi-drug-resistant TB can cost millions of dollars to treat. Nearly 500,000 people around the world developed MDR-TB last year. Even more threatening is extensively drug-resistant TB, which has a mortality rate of 85 percent and has been found in 35 countries, including the United States. As we learned last year through the case of Andrew Speaker, those with TB in one country can spread the disease easily in a closed area, like in an airplane. Now that global travel is so commonplace, TB in one country threatens all of us.

Currently, the United States provides funding for TB programs primarily through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. This fund, which is financed through contributions from a variety of wealthy countries, solicits grant proposals for health programs in poorer nations to combat these deadly diseases. If the proposals are deemed worthy by an independent technical review panel, the Global Fund grants the money to launch and sustain these programs. Since its inception, the Fund has disbursed $7.2 billion for programs that have saved an estimated 3.5 million lives.

In 2007, leaders at the Global Fund Board and G8 agreed to scale yearly contributions to the Global Fund up to between $6-8 billion if countries crafted high-quality grant proposals. This encouraged a dramatic increase in the number and scale of proposals submitted, and the Global Fund agreed to increase yearly funding. But G8 countries have not lived up to their commitments to increase contributions to the Fund yet and consequently many worthy projects still can’t obtain funding. If these projects stall, it could lead to lost lives and an increased likelihood that TB will spread to more countries.

Congress and the President have a chance to remedy this situation by increasing funding for the Global Fund in the coming supplemental appropriations bill. Our fair share of the financial need of the Global Fund is $2.7 billion. Compared to the trillions that we have poured into our irresponsible banks, this sum seems like pennies, and this money could actually provide a return on investment. Please contact your legislators and ask them to fight for full funding for the Global Fund. If you are unsure about who your legislator is, feel free to contact Lisa Treumuth (lmtreu@umich.edu) and Joshua Lee (msnbc@umich.edu) to receive that information. Millions of lives could depend on it — maybe even your own.

Joshua Lee is a Business sophomore and Lisa Treumuth is a graduate student.

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