March 24, 2005
World Tuberculosis Day
Today is World Tuberculosis day. Although I am sure that there are no front page headlines heralding the fact where you live, in Africa, where more than one third of the World’s TB cases are diagnosed, it is a significant day.
According to a Voice of America report, Health officials from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organize the event each year. TB is caused by a mycobacterium. The disease spreads easily through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. But people infected with the disease will not necessarily become sick. The organism can live in the body for years before becoming active.
In the late eighteen hundreds, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. On March twenty-fourth, eighteen eighty-two, Robert Koch announced the discovery of the mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis. At the time, it was the most important step towards controlling and ending this deadly disease.
Today, tuberculosis infects at least eight million people each year. It also is the second leading cause of death around the world. The disease kills two million to three million people each year. Only Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome kills more people. Eleven million people are infected with both tuberculosis and the virus that causes AIDS.
A combination of medicines is used to treat tuberculosis. But experts say the drug treatment is no longer effective against the disease in many parts of the world. This is because the mycobacterium has developed defenses against it. Doctors say the resistance resulted from patients failing to follow directions for taking the medicines.
Researchers recently discovered a new drug that may help the fight against tuberculosis. The substance is called R-two-zero-seven-nine-one-zero. Scientists have just begun to test the experimental drug in people.
Here in Malawi, many people are infected with TB. Fanny, who comes regularly to our Ndirande sessions, and is an expert knitter, has been hospitalized and has nearly died twice from TB. The BBC reported that because of the stigma attached to the disease, many countries are not treating the cases adequately or educating people about the disease. There have only been seven new drugs developed to treat TB in the last 100 years.
So, while we may hardly ever hear about tuberculosis, it is an international health problem that should not be overlooked. The Voice of America report on World Tuberculosis Day concluded, “Health officials say with enough efforts and resources, TB can be cured and controlled.”