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TB testing could delay international adoptions

By David Crary
Associated Press / August 11, 2009

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NEW YORK - Advocates of international adoption are furious over a new federal policy related to tuberculosis testing that could disrupt plans for families adopting children from China and Ethiopia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a directive intended to minimize the number of immigrants entering the United States with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Earlier this year, the CDC announced that immigrants over the age of 2 from Ethiopia and China - a country that for the past decade has been the leading source of foreign adoptions for American parents - would be subject to the new protocols. The policy applies to all immigrants, including children adopted abroad by US citizens.

Adoption advocates say the required testing procedures - and treatment in the case of positive tests - could cause delays ranging from several weeks to 12 months for obtaining a visa to bring adopted children back to the United States.

Several major adoption organizations are circulating a petition asking the CDC to exempt adopted children from the requirements. The groups contend that the risk of TB transmission is minimal for infected children under 12 and contend that adopted children, unlike some adult immigrants, are virtually assured of obtaining top-level healthcare as soon as they reach the United States.

Chuck Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Council for Adoption, and his allies are trying to mobilize congressional support for exempting adopted children from the policy. They are gathering testimonials from medical experts to back the contention that children, in contrast to adults, are extremely unlikely to transmit TB.

The CDC defends the policy as medically necessary. “We agree it’s a rare circumstance that children can transmit TB, but the reality is it can happen,’’ said CDC spokesman Glen Nowak.

He also said the CDC did not have the legal authority to exempt children being adopted by US families from rules applying to other immigrants.

Any policy change will come too late for Jay Scruggs and Candace Litchford, both architects from Alexandria, Va., who traveled to China last month and met their adopted daughter, Harper, on July 27, but had to return home without her last week after a wrenching farewell that they captured on a video posted on their blog.