On World TB Day: Where’s the rock ’n’ roll?

Katri Kemppainen-Bertram discusses the co-epidemic of TB/HIV and how combatting them together could be the solution to the epidemic.

What do you see when you visualize an organization called The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria? Possibly sex (as HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex), possibly drugs (anti-malaria pills during travels where there are malaria mosquitos), but I would guess no rock ‘n’ roll.

Tuberculosis (TB) kills 3 people every minute – 1.4 million people each year. It is an infectious, airborne disease that infects the throat and lungs.Without the correct medicines, it is fatal. TB strikes those who are most vulnerable: the poorest. It also strikes those who are already weak: in particular, people who are HIV-positive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes a World TB Report each year. The latest report shows that there were 1.1 million HIV-positive new TB cases in 2011 (and 8.7 million TB cases overall). Nearly 80 percent of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. The report warns that Africa is facing a TB, HIV, and TB/HIV co-epidemic emergency that is affecting its fight against poverty and impeding the continent’s economic development.

Mothers wait in line to receive vaccines for their childrenWomen waiting for their infant’s TB immunizations. Photo credit: one.org

There are fortunately many dedicated organizations and very passionate people working towards eradicating TB. As with HIV/AIDS and malaria, recent scientific developments make the eradication of tuberculosis appear closer than ever before. Combined treatment of TB and AIDS is possible. Globally, new cases of TB fell at a rate of 2.2 percent between 2010 and 2011. The world is on track to achieve the global Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of achieving a 50 percent reduction by 2015. Since 2002, the Global Fund, which channels more than 80 percent of international financing for TB, has enabled the treatment of 9.7 million people for TB.

The problem is that global successes hide regional discrepancies. Africa is far off track with the MDG targets, and multi-drug-resistant strands (MDR-TB) are on the rise. There is a $3 billion funding gap per year for TB, which hits the poorest 35 countries (25 of which are in Africa) hardest.

Whereas HIV/AIDS and malaria can be deadly also to those of us who live in developed countries, TB most often isn’t if it is discovered in time. TB does not have to kill, and with organizations such as the Global Fund, millions of lives can be saved.

The Global Fund depends on donor financing, and needs to be stocked up every few years. The next replenishment round will be at the end of 2013, and with the financial crisis, many governments are considering cuts. Cuts to the Global Fund mean cuts to programs and medicines for the poorest of the poor. Rock ‘n’ roll or not, it’s time to make your voice heard.

Show support for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and tell world leaders to keep up the fight. Sign the petition here