People are still dying from TB. Why? A personal plea.
Why are we still using the same drugs to treat TB as we
did almost 40 years ago? Why isn’t there enough money to eliminate TB from
the world today?
Let me tell you why I raise these issues. Almost a year
ago, tuberculosis (TB) took the lives of my pregnant wife, Claudia, of eight
years and my daughter, Emma, of twenty weeks. We thought we would be
celebrating the happiest moment of our lives, not the most tragic. In the
middle of her pregnancy, Claudia became very ill. Eventually she was
diagnosed with TB, but it was too late to save her. Claudia lived her life
on earth with hope, passion and love. And above all, the greatest of these
was her love.
You probably wouldn’t think TB would hit our family.
Claudia was a public health professional who spent her career improving the
lives of the poor and indigent, including those suffering from TB.
And, I am a former behavioral scientist working in
HIV/AIDS prevention with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta, GA USA. How could this happen to us?
TB is not selective of its host and because of a
particularly latent form of the disease, it affects many more people that we
think it does. Globally, TB is the number one killer of women during
childbearing years. It is the number one killer of AIDS patients. It
disproportionately affects minorities in the US and elsewhere.
Most people think tuberculosis is a disease of the past.
The hard fact is that TB is here and has always been here. It has never
disappeared, it has never been eradicated and it is killing people every
The CDC affirms that TB is still a major public health
concern in the US. How about in other countries like Thailand. It is time we
end our neglect of this disease.
Here’s what you should know: Tuberculosis is an
important public health problem in Thailand. A report from the Ministry of
Public Health in Thailand indicated that annually approximately 85,000
persons develop the disease and it is estimated that 7000 deaths annually
are attributed to TB.
The AIDS epidemic has made the TB situation even more
serious. There are approximately 570,000 persons living with HIV/AIDS in
Thailand. There is a significant proportion of persons living with HIV/AIDS
who are co-infected with TB. The average in the country is about 7 percent
or over 30,000 persons and in some regions of the country the percentage
goes up to 30 percent.
Furthermore in Thailand, there is an alarming rising
incidence of drug resistance in the bacteria isolated from HIV infected
persons. This will make TB control in Thailand a more complex task if
drug-resistant TB spreads to the general population.
TB has not, in any way, been eradicated. Globally, a
human being dies from TB every 15 seconds. Furthermore, each year 9 million
people around the world become sick with TB.
More than two-thirds of persons living with TB do not
receive full and proper treatment. Did you know that the last new drug for
TB was introduced over 40 years ago? The drugs we use today are “behind
the times” because they take too long to work or are too complex. When
Claudia was in the hospital, she was averaging 14-15 pills a day.
According to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development,
this issue is important to understand because when TB strikes, it usually
does so during the prime years of a person’s life. Most people living with
TB have to stop working. Therefore, a more rapid and simple treatment for TB
would not only prevent millions of deaths but could also cut health care
costs. At the same time, new drug treatment would help people living with
the disease lead productive lives.
What can you do to help? Encourage your governmental
representatives to assess whether they are doing enough to eliminate TB in
* Advocate for pro-poor policies in TB control programs-
connect development, sustainable financing and the right to health.
Promote uptake of the World Health Organization
guidelines for collaborative TB/HIV activities to address the dual epidemic
* Finally, tell them that deaths due to TB in Thailand
are simply unacceptable.
Claudia and Emma did not have to die from this disease
and neither should anyone close to you.