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World Tuberculosis Day - 24th March

by Michael Evans 24 Mar 2013
World Tuberculosis Day - 24th March

World Tuberculosis Day 2013; Credit: © Shutterstock

To most people in the developed world TB is a thing of the past. The large TB sanatoria that were located in places noted for their pure air, with rows of beds side by side on huge balconies, are all long gone. In those days, since there was no known effective cure, good food, fresh air and hope were the only possible remedies.

The advent of new medicines changed all that and it is now possible for 90% of all TB sufferers to be cured. In spite of that, around 4,000 people die of TB every day and the vast majority of these cases are in the developing world however, TB can hit anyone, anywhere, when it is least expected.

A problem in the developed world is that this is a disease that doctors are not used to seeing. Take the case of Kenni. In early 2012 she was a Texas dental hygienist who developed a cough and a fever. She was seen by a number of doctors who all made different diagnoses and proscribed different courses of treatment, but her condition didn't improve. Fortunately for Kenni her sister was a nurse and it was her who suggested that it might be TB.

The sister got Kenni to ER, where her suspicions were subsequently confirmed. Nine months of intensive treatment followed, but shortly after Christmas 2012 Kenni was declared fit and able to return to work.

World TB Day is designed to build public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis and the efforts to eliminate the disease.

24th March was chosen, because that was the date in 1882 that Dr Robert Koch gave a presentation in Berlin and astounded the world scientific community by announcing that he had discovered the TB bacillus.

In 1882 TB was raging throughout Europe and the Americas and was killing one in seven of the population. Koch's discovery was the first step towards diagnosis and cure of the disease.

In 1982, on the hundredth anniversary of Koch's presentation, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease proposed that 24th March should become an official World TB Day and in 1996 the World Health Organisation (WHO) joined with a number of other organisations to give the day a greater impact.

TB is an airborne disease that is transferred from person to person by minute droplets. It is highly infectious and overcrowding, coupled with poor diet are big factors in the spread of the disease.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlighted the massive problem that exists today in affected countries where little effort is being taken to stop the disease from breeding inside prisons. As a result, unless authorities take significant steps to increase their efforts, attempts to stem the worldwide spread of TB are likely to fall well short of what was needed.

Due to overcrowding and poor nutrition, said the ICRC, TB rates in many prisons are 10 to 40 times higher than in the general public. Areas when the ICRC has been fighting TB in prison populations include, the Caucasus region, Central Asia, Latin America, Asia Pacific and Africa. Although anyone can get TB, due to the unequal distribution of TB risk factors there is a higher risk of TB among racial and ethnic minorities.

In 2012 the Stop TB Partnership began a two-year campaign; Stop TB in my lifetime.

The Stop TB Partnership has published a list of what people should expect during their lifetime:

· Zero deaths from TB

· Universal access to TB care

· Faster treatment

· A quick, cheap, low-tech test

· An effective vaccine

· A world free of TB.

The point is stressed that TB is 90% curable at low cost, but the fight against TB is grossly under funded. There is a proven track record that saving lives of TB sufferers can promote growing economies, making TB care one of the best buys in world health. In spite of this, few countries have ambitious plans for universal TB coverage and only US$500 million comes from international sources, that covers just 6% of overall needs.

Tuberculosis remains one of the world's deadliest diseases. It is estimated that a third of the world's population is infected with the bacteria that causes the disease and every year nearly 9 million people fall ill as a result. One and a half million people die from TB every year; that is roughly 4,000 every day.

It is surely an outrage that while the world is calling for zero TB deaths, it is still doing little to stop the death rate. World TB Day is the opportunity for each individual to do his part in advocating for increased commitment, visibility and funding for TB care and research.

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