OPINION: Young stood tall in the fight against tuberculosis

In the time since Don Young’s passing, the numerous tributes, reminiscences and recountings of his career have focused primarily on his personality and style, or on what he accomplished on behalf of the state of Alaska. But there is another part of his legacy, apparently little known or appreciated, that deserves to be known and honored. At the Anchorage memorial service for Young, his daughter was quoted as saying that his family shared him “with people across the world who looked to him for leadership.” Without knowing what particular issues she had in mind, we can testify that Don was indeed a leader on the global stage through his sustained advocacy and work to secure badly needed funding to combat tuberculosis (TB), a disease usually far from the minds of most Americans. Alaska, of course, has its own tragic history with TB, and we still often have the dubious honor of having the highest infection rate among the 50 states.

Don was co-chair of the House TB Elimination Caucus, a position which allowed him to reach out to colleagues with information on the continuing impact of TB in Alaska and around the world. Far from being a disease of the past, TB continues to ravage families and communities in large areas of the world, a situation greatly worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic arrived, TB was the world’s leading global cause of death from infectious disease, killing roughly 1.5 million people annually, and the disruptions caused by COVID have reversed years of hard-worn progress against this toll, and further exacerbated the health challenge. Don Young recognized the ongoing need for substantial and growing funding to prevent and treat TB, and especially to meet the threat of evolving drug resistant forms, which are particularly challenging and costly to diagnose, and often incurable, even with expensive treatment, which remains inaccessible to too many. Don deserves major credit for seriously taking on the challenge of securing that funding, boldly calling most recently for a $1 billion annual U.S. investment in its bilateral TB control programs.

We Alaskan RESULTS volunteers, and our fellow advocates around the country and the planet, greatly appreciated Don’s consistent availability to meet with us, and to better inform himself about TB, and effective strategies to defeat it. With our persistent encouragement, Don played a key multi-year role in the Congress in steadily increasing funding to combat TB, by being a repeated lead signer and circulator of an influential annual bipartisan letter to the relevant Appropriations Subcommittee, signed last year by over a hundred of his House colleagues. This year, the recently passed Omnibus Appropriations bill contained few increases for global health accounts, but the largest one, more than half of the total increase, was for U.S. bilateral TB control programs. The many hundreds of millions of dollars that Congressman Young’s leadership helped secure over time have saved countless lives. Don’s important contributions to the cause of global health should be recognized and suitably honored. His informed voice and effective behind-the-scenes leadership are already greatly missed.

Sara Buckingham, Tiffany Chiem, Michele Friedman, Roger Hudson, John Kennish, Pat Kennish, Sue Liebner, Mary Martin, Mya Ramirez, and Catherine Schoessler are Alaska RESULTS volunteers. RESULTS is a nationwide advocacy group and lobbying organization whose stated mission is to identify the highest-impact policy solutions to poverty and cultivate an advocacy movement that secures the political leadership, focus and resources to get the job done.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.