Who killed all the poets?

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John Keats, DH Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, Henry David Thoreau. Famous poets that turned words to art. Sadly, they also had another thing in common: tuberculosis. In the late 1800s, TB was tearing through the US and Europe, causing many deaths.

Today is World TB Day, an opportunity to take stock of progress made in ridding the world of this horrible disease and also identifying opportunities to make more progress. For most of us, TB is not a big concern. Once in a while we get a scare –- remember that guy a few years back who flew back to the US even though he’d been diagnosed with infectious TB? -– but for the most part it’s a disease of the past.

Not so for many people living in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. About 2 million people die every year from TB, making it one of the world’s top killers. It’s become even more deadly with people with HIV, and is what causes most AIDS-related deaths in Africa.

“Without additional funding in the battle against tuberculosis for research, improved prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, some 8 million people will die from what is largely a curable disease between now and 2015,” according to a statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

Thanks to a lot of work by partners across the world, there’s been great progress. More and more people are diagnosed and treated, and that’s thanks in large part to increased funding through the Global Fund -– a key focus of our ONE advocacy work. About two-thirds of all donor support for TB flows through the Global Fund, and this has helped many poor people get the treatment they need. There’s also a good strategy in place, thanks to the Stop TB Partnership, an active coalition of more than 1 thousand organizations working together to eliminate TB.

Still, there’s a lot more to do. On the prevention front, there’s still a shocking disconnect between HIV and TB services –- even though we know that the rate of TB is much higher, and more deadly, among people living with HIV. Those managing programs and funding need to do much more to ensure that HIV and TB are treated as one in the many countries where they’re raging together.

On the research front, there are some new diagnostic tools to help quickly identify people with active TB, including those that have developed drug-resistant TB (you get drug-resistant TB when the systems for providing regular TB fail, leaving patients vulnerable to mutating viruses that are harder and more expensive to treat). The Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND) has an active effort on TB that’s really focused on addressing real problems in developing countries that don’t have lots of expensive laboratories, microscopes, and trained personnel).

The world needs a vaccine for TB! There is one now, called BCG and developed about 90 years ago, and it’s used to protect infants but it doesn’t protect them from adult forms of TB and is only partially effective. The Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation is leading in this area; they’re hopeful that a vaccine will be ready by the end of the decade. Let’s hope they’re right!

So what can you do to save the poets of today and tomorrow? Help us keep up the pressure to fully fund the Global Fund. The fights still on, sadly, and it’s caught up in the big budget debates going on in many donor capitols. Join ONE, and respond when we ask –- we really do need your voice to help support political leaders to do the right thing.

Photo of Henry David Thoreau courtesy of Wikimedia commons