While the name “tuberculosis” may conjure up images of Victorian-era sanatoriums, the saga of tuberculosis is far from over. Though the disease is no longer nearly as deadly in Europe and the United States, it remains a great threat to the developing world.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis that most often attacks the lungs, though it can also affect other parts of the body. The disease causes blood-tinged cough with sputum, chest pains, rapid weight loss and fever.
Tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide from one infectious agent. In 2011, 8.7 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million people died from the disease. Fatality is especially common among people whose immune systems have been weakened tremendously by HIV. People who are infected with HIV and tuberculosis are 21 to 34 times more likely to become sick from TB than those who do not have HIV.
The disease hits women and children particularly hard. As one of the top killers of women, approximately half a million women died from tuberculosis in 2011. In the same year, at least half a million children became ill with TB and about 64,000 children died.
It is estimated that about one third of the world’s total population has contracted at least a latent form of the disease. The lifetime risk of falling ill from TB once infected with TB bacteria remains around 10%. Fortunately, the disease is both preventable and treatable with modern medicine. Access to healthcare and a healthy immune system help to ward off infection in most cases.
However, for those living in areas where healthcare is virtually inaccessible, tuberculosis holds a much graver danger. Though TB occurs in every part of the world, over 95% of deaths caused by tuberculosis occur in low- to middle-income countries. In 2011, about 80% of TB cases were reported in only 22 countries, all in the developing world. If left untreated, between 50-60% of active cases of tuberculosis result in death.
The Good News
The sixth United Nation Millennium Development Goal holds the objective of halting and beginning to reverse the incidence of major disease such as tuberculosis by 2015, and the world seems to be on track to achieve this goal.
Tuberculosis is a curable and treatable disease. The standard TB treatment for active cases includes a six-month course of four antimicrobial drugs. When these drugs are administered with the proper supervision and support, the vast majority of TB cases can be cured.
The medical community has the know-how to eradicate TB; the issue lies in the inability to access and pay for this healthcare by many of those most at risk. Fortunately, the global community has been making significant strides to alleviate this issue and make TB testing more attainable and TB treatment more affordable.
According to the World Health Organization, the overall number of those falling ill with TB is declining each year. In the past twenty years, the death rate of tuberculosis has dropped by over 40%, and over 50 million people have been successfully treated since 1995. Additionally, about 1.3 million lives were saved between 2005 and 2011 as a result of collaborative TB/HIV treatments.
Though the WHO is currently facing a 9 million dollar funding gap, the improvements to the global tuberculosis situation continue to be largely the result of the organization’s efforts. Currently, there are eleven vaccines in developmental stages and new drugs to treat drug-resistant TB are in clinical trial and regulatory review. If all goes as planned, tuberculosis will soon be a thing of the past.
– Kathryn Cassibry
Source: United Nations,World Health Organization
Photo: Seattle Thru