World TB Day: Preventable and curable, but affecting millions
This year, as always, the world marks World TB day with the aim of raising public awareness of TB and commemorating the discovery of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis by Robert Koch in 1882. The theme selected to mark this year’s event is “Stop TB in my lifetime” which focuses on a world free of TB in the lifetime of today’s children, and a world free of TB deaths in the lifetime of today’s adults.
Although TB kills nearly a million and half people every year and nearly nine million individuals suffer from this largely preventable and curable disease, the global effort to tackle TB has been modest until fairly recently. Public awareness is generally not high. There still exists some real misunderstandings about the infection. TB requires close, prolonged contact with somebody who has the infectious form of the disease in order for it to be passed on. There is also no red ribbon or poppy to symbolise the disease which afflicts so many globally, so this may be why over the years it has not reached the same level of global awareness as some of the other infections which currently burden the world.
It is therefore interesting that this year the global Stop TB Partnership, which coordinates wider societal and stakeholder involvement in the effort to control TB, has decided on a message which encourages people world-wide to make a personal call for priorities in TB prevention and cure.
For many in the west, TB is largely seen as a disease that affects poor countries. While the highest burden of TB is predominantly borne by poor and middle income countries, TB rates continue to remain high in major cities in Europe and North America. London, for example, has been described as the TB capital of Europe as it has seen a resurgence of TB on a scale not seen in any other western European capital in the last two decades. The number of new cases of TB every year in the London Borough of Brent is comparable to that in Karonga district in Malawi. It is therefore appropriate that any intervention provides an effective means to identify cases promptly and ensure that they complete treatment. Urban TB control remains a priority for low TB incidence countries.
There is, however, hope. Recent estimates from the WHO suggest that we are likely to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of falling TB rates globally by 2015. Research funding has increased over the last decade and promising new candidate vaccines and drugs are being evaluated by researchers. New tests that help to rapidly detect TB are also becoming available. We are gaining new insights all the time into how the infection is transmitted and how it causes disease. In the UK, new guidance released today by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) aims to tackle some of the issues which health services encounter when trying to target TB prevention at hard to reach groups, such as immigrants, homeless people, problem drug users and prisoners.
So, what more can we do? There is a funding gap for the development of new antibiotics, tests to diagnose TB and a vaccine to prevent the illness. The call by the Stop TB partnership for all of us to take action and demand that TB is controlled is timely and appropriate. Examples of action that people can take to reduce the global burden of TB include: volunteering for the UK’s leading national TB charity, TB Alert, which works locally as well as in high burden countries, encouraging and influencing our MPs to prioritise TB control and action, and encouraging more funding for critical research into TB control efforts.Tagged in: death, disease, health, Robert Koch, TB, tuberculosis, world tb day
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