World TB Day 2018

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Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium (seen in the image), a genus postulated  to have originated some 150 million years ago! The first written records about TB from India and China, date back to 3300 and 2300 years ago respectively.

Hippocrates accurately defined symptoms of “Pthisis” (Greek for TB) and described it as a fatal disease. There is also plenty of historical evidence about tuberculosis and its impact on human culture. From being identified as a “romantic disease” to being associated with poetic and artistic qualities, TB has had its fair share of time in the limelight.

All this history aside, the fact is, if untreated, TB can be fatal.  Effective treatment became available about 50 years after Robert Koch showed that TB was caused by an infectious agent in 1882Soldier TB 2. Isolation in sanitariums and surgical interventions were all part of treatment until the advent of streptomycin in 1944. BCG vaccine has also been in use since 1921. Several public health campaigns (such as the one seen here) were also conducted to raise awareness once TB was established as a contagious disease.

Unfortunately even to this day, TB is still a major public health concern in many parts of the world and is among the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide.  Seven countries account for two-thirds of total TB cases with India leading the count.

The disease typically affects the lungs and is spread in the air when a person infected with TB coughs or sneezes. Sadly the cost of having TB goes beyond the damage it does to one’s health. Recent studies show that economic impact TB can have people; TB can lead to a downward spiral into poverty and for the poor a TB diagnosis can prolong the cycle of poverty they already live in.

TB3March 24th is World TB Day. The theme for World TB Day 2018 is “Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free World”.

TB rate spike due to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, poor TB infection control in South African clinics and jail time for doctors who fail to report TB cases in India, have all been in the news leading up to World TB day. Clearly these news reports show the need for stepping up global action, if we hope to end TB by 2030.

The message about greater commitment and better leadership comes ahead of the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on TB in September 2018. Given the surge in multiple drug-resistant TB, it is imperative that leaders at all levels work together to end TB. End TB strategy adopted in 2014 outlines interventions that fall under three key pillars that include integrated, patient-centered care and prevention, policies and supportive systems and research and innovation.

But as public health professionals, community leaders and residents, we all can take small steps to make sure we put an end to TB. The path to ending TB will hopefully improve the lives of most vulnerable people world-wide.

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