BRAMPTON, Ontario — Disease is debilitating. Living with an infectious disease weighs heavy on an individual’s psyche, as well as on their family. Disease tears down lives and, in destitute regions, makes the possibility of having a future a privilege rather than a right.
Striking down HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases is one of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Disease and poverty chase each other in a cycle: disease drives poverty and poverty breeds disease.
Tuberculosis took 1.3 million lives in 2012 and 8.6 million people suffered from the disease throughout the world that year. TB is a runner-up behind HIV/AIDS in having infected the most people worldwide because of a single infectious agent.
The frustrating issue with TB is that it is curable but continues to be a worldwide killer. Not everyone infected develops the disease, even though nearly one-third of the world is infected. Only 10 percent of those infected with the bacteria will develop the disease. Also, the likelihood of developing the disease is 30 times more likely if those infected also have HIV. Their weakened immune system cannot fight the bacteria.
Since regions of extreme poverty usually also experience high incidences of HIV, it is no surprise that TB and HIV/AIDS go hand-in-hand.
Despite the promise of vaccination, only two infectious diseases have been eradicated so far, one of them being smallpox. This is because vaccination and proper medical treatment is not available to many regions in impoverished countries. Still, while many infectious diseases like malaria, measles and polio persist, they are under control thanks to improvements made by health policies and programs.
The World Health Organization recently presented a framework for the TB Eradication Plan as follows:
1. Ensure funding and stewardship for planning, and services of high quality
2. Address most vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups
3. Address special needs of migrants; cross-border issues
4. Undertake screening for active TB and latent TB infection in high-risk groups and provide appropriate treatment; manage outbreaks
5. Optimize multi-drug resistant TB prevention and care
6. Ensure continued surveillance and program monitoring and evaluation
7. Invest in research and new tools
8. Support global TB control.
WHO aims to implement this framework in countries with low TB rates of fewer than 100 cases per year per million people. This agenda involves 33 countries including seven North American nations and 20 European. The preliminary phase views 2035 as the year when TB rates will be reduced to 10 cases per million followed by complete elimination by 2050.
Marco Ravigilone, Director of the Global TB Programme at WHO, called for governments to make “bold decisions” in order to effectively clamp down TB rates.
Countries must look inward and assess their internal health policies and initiatives to eliminate TB on the home front. If TB cannot be eradicated from countries where incidence is low, then eradication on a larger scale in harder hit regions would be unfathomable.
Many ask how driving TB out of developed nations will help the TB crisis in impoverished nations. The goal is for these 33 nations to pose as model countries, or “trailblazers,” leading the pack. The approaches hammered out for TB treatment and prevention by these leading nations could be subsequently adopted by nations with high TB incidence.
TB is not an isolated issue; dedicated collaboration is crucial.
Additionally, in developed countries, many falsely assume that TB is a far-off problem and dismiss it. This is why raising awareness is so important: citizens in wealthy nations are often ignorant about the issues faced in other parts of the world because it does not affect them personally. WHO’s framework is an announcement declaring that TB prevention and elimination is a worldwide mission, not a local one.
The need to eliminate TB is urgent. A total of 500 of 155,000 new cases in the target countries were found to be multi-drug resistant.
Ravigilone said that if these target nations are inactive and do not commit to fighting TB, it will prevail in stronger forms and the fight against the disease will become even more problematic.
WHO’s proposal calls for government intervention in order to revolutionize health strategies dealing with TB diagnosis, treatment and control. Instead of lobbying citizens to fund more medicine and vaccines, this initiative demands change from those in power.
– Carmen Tu
Sources: Yahoo, Medical News Today, Reuters, UNICEF