Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Learn something about TB!

By Misty Fightspoverty (real name tho)

As World Tuberculosis Day arrives this Saturday, I can’t stop thinking about the scene described in the opening of Melissa Fay Greene’s book, “There Is No Me Without You.”

The author was following a middle-aged woman, Haregewoin Teferra, to the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her mission that day was to pick up a two-year-old boy, Mintesinot, who was living on the streets with his father. The boy’s dad, Eskender, had AIDS, was unable to work and appeared to be sick with tuberculosis, the opportunistic infection that is the biggest killer of HIV-positive people. As they coaxed the child into a waiting taxi, Greene gave Eskender the address and phone number for Haregewoin’s home. She relates that heart-wrenching moment:

“Clearly this child was his whole life; he’d raised out of nothing, out of rags and refuse and handouts, a delightful and confident boy. But he knew this day must be coming. He grasped that people in good health had arrived to take away his son. He wearily lowered himself into his lonely knot of blankets. The whole neighborhood looked poorer as we departed with Mintesinot; the father had lost his only treasure, accepting, like a receipt, his son’s forwarding address.”

Eskender eventually died, but Mintesinot was adopted by a couple in Arizona. Millions of other children, however, are not as fortunate. Tuberculosis now kills 1.6 million people a year, most of them adults who are mothers and fathers to kids like Mintesinot. TB does its worst in sub-Saharan Africa, where people with AIDS-weakened immune systems are much more likely to get sick with TB. They could be treated with drugs costing as little as $16, but many nations lack the wherewithal to provide access to treatment for all who need it.

As bad as the situation is, it’s about to get much worse. New strains of the disease, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), are popping up with greater frequency around world, with the greatest concentration of cases in Africa. These strains are virtually untreatable, with patients dying within weeks of diagnosis. Last year, 52 out of 53 patients with XDR-TB in a South African Hospital died. Of the ones who were tested, all were HIV-positive. Because health systems in most African nations aren’t equipped to detect, diagnose and treat XDR-TB, the hundreds of cases identified in South Africa are likely to be the tip of a lethal iceberg.

XDR-TB emerged because health systems around the world failed to effectively treat tuberculosis. Improper or incomplete treatment gave rise to multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), which resists treatment with first-line drugs. In turn, failure to properly treat MDR-TB causes the emergence of XDR-TB, which is resistant to the second-line drugs used to treat MDR-TB. Once a person has XDR-TB, it is easily transmitted through the air by a cough or sneeze. People with AIDS are especially susceptible to getting infected.

While all this is rather bleak news, we can still avoid a worldwide health catastrophe such as the one we’ve experienced with AIDS the past two decades.

Last year, the 10-year Global Plan to Stop TB was launched at the World Economic Forum. If fully implemented, the plan will:
· Expand access to high-quality TB testing and treatment for all
· Save 14 million lives
· Treat 50 million people for TB
· Treat all MDR-TB patients and put 3 million patients co-infected with TB and HIV on anti-retrovirals
· Develop more effective tools to diagnose and treat TB and develop a new vaccine

The cost of the plan over the next decade is $56 billion, but a funding gap of $31 billion currently exists. Closing the gap requires that the U.S. and other donors triple their investments in global TB programs. To meet our share of support in 2008, Congress needs to allocate $400 million for bilateral TB programs and provide $1.4 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

This isn’t just about helping poor people in distant lands. Supporting the Global Plan to Stop TB is also an investment to protect the lives and health of people here in the U.S., where XDR-TB is only a plane ride away from starting an outbreak. And many Americans serving in the armed forces will soon be deployed in Africa, where XDR-TB could soon spread out of control without prompt action. To borrow a line from the war on terrorism, we have to stop XDR-TB over there before it comes over here.

But the biggest reason for stopping TB, however, is that millions of children won’t have to stand by helplessly and watch their parents die.

Misty Fightspoverty is a student attending Georgia Perimeter College and a member of RESULTS, an advocacy group working to end hunger and poverty.


The first Atlanta TB Awareness Walk takes place Saturday — World TB Day — at 9 a.m. in Grant Park near the Cyclorama. Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, will speak before the walk. www.tbwalk.org

More information about TB is available from the Stop TB Partnership at www.stoptb.org

Find out how citizens can support TB efforts at www.results.org

No comments: