Why We Should Care About TB
Many people in the West have never thought about tuberculosis as a risk to their health. Tuberculosis is often considered to be a disease of the past. In 2011 in Canada the incidence of any form of tuberculosis was only 5 per 100,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But, within Canada certain communities, such as Aboriginal and Inuit populations, have borne an unequal share of the disease. And, in other locations around the world tuberculosis is a dangerous epidemic that affects thousands of people and their communities.
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1.7 million people died from TB in 2009. It is among the three greatest causes of death among women aged fifteen to forty-four worldwide.
Eastern Africa has been particularly hard hit with the disease. Incidence rates in Swaziland were estimated at 1257 per 100,000, at 971 per 100,000 in South Africa, and at 539 per 100,000 in Mozambique by the WHO in 2011. India, Asia and Russia also have high incidence rates.
The global incidence rate has been declining since 2004, but millions of cases continue to be diagnosed each year. 9.4 million new cases of TB were diagnosed in 2009 – that is roughly equal to one new case every second! One third of the global population has been infected with TB. This is not a disease of the past; tuberculosis is an epidemic affecting the world today.
Tuberculosis is the number one killer of people living with HIV. 25% of people with HIV will die due to a tuberculosis infection. Providing preventative treatment is crucial to stemming these numbers, yet there are not enough health programs on the ground where they are most needed and more funds need to be committed to fighting TB and HIV.
The WHO and many other partners have supported the DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course) program, aimed at increasing detection rates, drug supplies, patient monitoring services, and political commitment to treatment. DOTS is a key component of the Stop TB Strategy, which seeks to expand the DOTS program, address the needs of vulnerable populations, investigate drug resistance, engage health care providers, empower communities, and support research. For more information on these programs please refer to the WHO’s website and the Stop TB website.
The drug regimens used to treat TB – for example, diligently taking between thirteen and sixteen pills a day for six to nine months – and their effects, which can make the patient hallucinate, vomit, and experience muscle cramps, among other side-effects, cause many patients to desist from their treatment plans before their TB has been cured. This has contributed to the rise in multidrug-resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant strains. There are now totally-drug-resistant strains of TB. The increase in such cases of tuberculosis should cause us all serious concern. The DOTS initiative, which includes the observation of patients taking their medicine, is an important way that medical professionals are working to promote the cure of tuberculosis and to limit the incidence of drug-resistant cases.
Ongoing research seeks to develop faster diagnostic tools and new vaccines.
You can make a difference by joining the Stop TB movement, promoting awareness of TB in your community, or by urging your government representatives to support TB research and treatment. For more ideas on what you can do, go to http://www.stoptb.ca/action.shtml.