Pol calls for increase in city spending for tuberculosis tests as disease spikes

New_York_Daily_News_logo.png By Jillian Jorgensen

The city should hike its spending on tuberculosis tests and treatments as it sees a spike in the disease, Councilman Mark Levine said Monday.

Last year, there were 613 new cases of TB in the city, a 10% increase — and multi-drug-resistant TB, which can cost about $300,000 a case to treat — is also on the rise. Levine said that's come as funding for the illness from the city, state and federal government has dropped to about half of what it was 10 years ago.

He's proposing adding $6.7 million to the budget to help increase staffing and hours at the city's four remaining Chest Center clinics, which provide evaluation and treatment for TB.

"In the context of our broader public health budget, the health department has a $1.6 billion budget and in the context of the overall city budget now proposed to be $89 billion, with a b, this is less than one-tenth of one per cent of the total budget to address a looming public health crisis," he said. "We think this is a good investment."

The illness affects marginalized communities like those living in tight quarters, new immigrants and people with HIV and AIDS, Levine said, warning against a repeat of TB epidemics that plagued the city in the '80s and '90s.

Amanda Lugg of the African Services Committee said the funding cuts have real consequences.

"In a regular month African Services tests over 300 people with free HIV tests," she said, thanks to subsidies. "We are only testing 10 people for TB tests — because they cost, because we have to charge to cover the cost of the test."

She called it a "missed opportunity."

"As a result we're finding TB too late," she said. "It's spreading. The vast majority of TB cases are diagnosed in city hospitals costing both the city and New York families dearly."

A skin test for TB runs about $30, she said.

"Thirty dollars is a lot of money," Lugg said.

"For someone who is low income," Levine added. "But for the city of New York, it's not a lot of money for us. This should be an investment in public health."

A health department spokesman said the department was planning to increase funding, though not at the level Levine has sought.

"We have invested $14.7 million annually to combat tuberculosis, and are committing an additional $1.4 million this year to address the recent 10% increase in cases," spokesman Christopher Miller said. "These additional resources will be used build capacity for critical services identifying and treating newly infected New Yorkers, monitoring patients currently on treatment and investigating all reported TB cases."

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