Q.: What happens when you cut the supports from a program to quell a deadly epidemic? A.: You get the problem back, in spades. That is what happened with tuberculosis, a plague that once sent health agencies into overdrive all over the world. It could have been prevented.
Physicians in New York were some of the first to see it coming. At Harlem Hospital, in one of the nation's poorest communities, health workers saw TB rates jump 50 percent from 1979 to 1980. They called for new funding, saying the situation could easily get out of control. In 1982, the American Lung Association warned the U.S. Congress that some states had dropped all tuberculosis funding, as if the problem, largely under control, had gone away. The association urged $15 million in new funding, but the Centers for Disease Control got only $1 million. Infection rates inched upward.
By 1988, the price tag had gone up to $154 million. But the Centers for Disease Control got only $73 million, less than half the requested amount, for a planned five-year program. TB cases kept rising, bringing down many people who could have been protected from the dread killer.