mikeHondaIn March of 2010, the united States Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama. This historic legislation addressed some of the most pressing health care issues of our time. However, we still face many challenges providing health care to our nation's underserved populations. One of these challenges is our high level of tuberculosis (TB) infection, and the racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the TB infection rates.

Tuberculosis is a disease of poverty affecting vulnerable groups and killing almost 4,000 people every day. Despite its prevalence, many people are unaware of the causes and risks. The disease is transmitted by the spread of germs from person- to-person through the air. The most common signs of the disease are coughing and chest pain, but symptoms can vary greatly if TB spreads from the lungs to other organs. The disease causes 1.4 million deaths per year worldwide. TB is the world's greatest killer of persons with HIV/AIDS.

As Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I am particularly aware of the dramatic disparity in TB infection rates between ethnic groups. While only 12,904 cases of tuberculosis (4.2 cases per 100,000 persons) were reported in the united States in 2008, native Hawaiians contract the disease at a rate of 15.9 cases per 100,000 and Asian Americans contract it at a rate of 25.6 cases per 100,000—more than five times the rate of the general population.

I have worked with many of my colleagues at the local, state, and federal level to combat this disease and eliminate these disparities. Over the last few years, I have worked to make sure that efforts to counter diseases like tuberculosis remained a priority for our federal government. As a Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education, I have repeatedly fought to ensure continued funding for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis. I have also co-sponsored several TB-related bills, including the Comprehensive TB Elimination Act, and the TB Now Act.

The fight against tuberculosis does not stop at our country's borders. It requires coordinated global action as the emergence of drug-resistant TB presents new risk of pandemic and threatens the effectiveness of current HIV treatment programs, to which America is committed. The United States is the largest single donor to the Global Fund, whose programs have provided treatment to 8.2 million TB patients.

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and funding for the Global Fund are helping to ease the burden of women afflicted with these illnesses in low and middle-income countries.

As tuberculosis affects women primarily in their economically and reproductively active years, the consequences of the disease are also strongly felt by their children and families. Too often, women afflicted with TB are left undiagnosed and end up spreading the disease to their children. Furthermore, maternal TB is associated with increased risk of mother- to-child HIV transmission.

In the past year, U.S.-funded research has made significant contributions to the treatment and prevention of Tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria worldwide. There are promising developments in TB diagnostics, drugs, shortened treatment regimens, and vaccines, and we are on the verge of a breakthrough in the fight against TB. It is critical that we continue to support health-related research at colleges and universities-- we are on the verge of a breakthrough in the fight against TB. There also needs to be continued collaboration between the TB and HIV communities in providing prevention, treatment, and care to all people.

If we are bold and innovative in the face of the TB threat, then we can forge a future where tuberculosis is a thing of the past--a future where women and children across the globe can live healthier, safer, and fuller lives.