Monday, April 1, 2013

The deadly rise of tuberculosis

 World Tuberculosis Day was celebrated on March 24 and the global theme was ‘Stop TB in my lifetime’. However, there is growing concern caused by the threat of drug-resistant TB.

World Tuberculosis Day was celebrated on March 24 and the global theme was ‘Stop TB in my lifetime’. However, there is growing concern caused by the threat of drug-resistant TB. 

By Dr Cory Couillard drcorycouillard@gmail.com

Globally, nine million people become infected with tuberculosis (TB) each year and approximately a million and a half people die of it.  Tuberculosis is the third leading cause of death in women with it’s impact being greatest amongst women of childbearing age.

To add to the terror, 10 million children have been orphaned due to TB related deaths.  In a single day, deaths caused by TB are equivalent to the number of deaths caused by 15 jetliner crashes. 

World Tuberculosis Day was celebrated on March 24 and the global theme was ‘Stop TB in my lifetime’. However, there is growing concern caused by the threat of drug-resistant TB.

About one third of the world’s population is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria. Only a small proportion of those infected will become sick with TB according to the World Health Organisation.

Individuals with weakened immune systems have a much greater risk of falling ill from TB. Statistics show that a person living with HIV is about 20 to 30 times more likely to develop active TB.  Tuberculosis is curable and preventable with the help of lifestyle interventions. 

“This is vital to ensure that everyone has access to TB prevention and treatment services in all countries in the region”, says Dr Sambo, Regional Director of the WHO.

The TB epidemic is largely driven by factors related to poverty, poor access to healthcare services and limited awareness and education.  The co-infection of TB and HIV is a growing challenge as one in four people living with HIV will die of tuberculosis.     

In 2011, 46 per cent of those who had TB were HIV positive and sadly, only 46 per cent of them received the WHO recommended anti-retroviral treatment according to the Global Tuberculosis Report of 2012.

Drug resistance

Extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR) has been detected in 84 countries and is a growing threat with the ease of international travel. To prevent further cases of XDR, a radical change is needed in the political and scientific thinking, and the implementation of specific preventative measures.

“The widespread emergence of XDR tuberculosis could lead to virtually untreatable tuberculosis,” according to the authors of a recent study led by Alimuddin Zumla, Director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases and International Health at University College London Medical School.

The number of laboratory-confirmed cases of drug-resistant-TB has gone from 12,000 in 2005 to 62,000 in 2011. However, many health officials think that the real figure is closer to 300,000.

Prevention, education and awareness are needed despite the global economic crisis and global healthcare shortages. National tuberculosis programmes can make significant strides in TB control and facilitate the prevention of drug-resistant tuberculosis. 

Tuberculosis has been perceived as someone else’s problem for decades and the amount of innovative treatments, research and policy developments are nearly nonexistent. Drug-resistant TB can be viewed as a result of governments, policy makers and the medical community complacency in response to the growing threat.

Preventing tuberculosis

About one third of the world’s population is infected with the tuberculosis bacteria but the vast majority can prevent or fight it naturally by leading a healthy lifestyle. The best methods of preventing tuberculosis include nearly anything that builds a strong immune system. 

It’s important to engage in regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and get enough good quality sleep.  One of the most powerful factors in the strength of one’s immune system is the avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.

Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organisation’s goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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