This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) published its annual Global Tuberculosis Report. I have been following tuberculosis (TB) quite closely for the past 3 years, and it is a disease that increasingly worries me. This year’s report findings should be worrying to everyone.
Photo credit: The Global Fund
TB is an air-borne infectious disease that gained prominence in the past decade “thanks” to the HIV/AIDS crisis. People who are HIV-positive are over 50 times more likely to be infected by TB. But it also affects HIV-negative people – as well as fully healthy people. There is currently no effective prevention for TB, and without treatment, it’s a lethal disease.
Thanks (and this time without quotations!) to organizations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, TB detection and treatment rates have been increasing. And subsequently, death rates have been falling globally – albeit very slowly. In 2012, 1.3 million people died from TB.
What is hugely worrying is the rise of drug-resistant strains of TB, which, as implied in the name, are forms of TB that are not treatable by conventional drugs. I recently attended a workshop on drug-resistant TB, where MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant TB), XDR-TB (extremely drug resistant TB), and even TDR-TB (totally drug resistant TB) were discussed.
A representative from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) underlined the key problem and cause in the rise of drug resistance: the lack of new TB drugs. The last TB drug available to most people was developed in the 1950s. Imagine if we were still using the same cars and televisions our grandparents used.
WHO estimates that 450,000 people fell ill with MDR-TB in 2012 alone. Many of those people did not receive treatment, and even among those who did, just under half (48 percent) were cured after 2 years.
What provides hope is that there are some potentially effective new drugs for treatment in the pipeline. Vaccines to prevent TB are also under development. There’s a brilliant short film series about TB and vaccines available online for those who’d like to learn more. As the films show, much more needs to be invested into research and development.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is gathering funds from donors in just over a month, on December 3rd. Please support our petition to ensure that we can continue to effectively fight these three killer diseases.