TB Bungle Highlights Global Challenges

Gina Olivieri | The Daily Telegraph | 28 March 2017

Thank you to the brave young man who shared his horrifying story of surviving TB (TB or Not TB, March 27). This case highlights several global challenges that must be addressed for us to have any hope of ending this disease. Firstly, his misdiagnosis is emblematic of the difficulties faced in diagnosing TB the world over, where often a mere microscope is the only way to test if a patient has TB. It can take weeks to receive a diagnosis – during which time the patient can infect others. Secondly, the stigma feared by this man is felt worldwide. Much like HIV, TB is a stigmatised disease, and TB patients can be discriminated against, making outreach to potentially infected people difficult and making people reluctant to seek medical care if they suspect they have TB. Thirdly, the drugs that TB patients must take – often a long, toxic regimen with awful side-effects. It’s hard enough to imagine a student in Sydney fronting up to the hospital daily to receive his medicine – but what about a mother of small kids in PNG who has to walk hours or days to a clinic? The difficulties of accessing daily treatment over an extended period make it easy for patients to stop taking their medicines, increasing drug-resistance. It is clear that better prevention, diagnostics, treatments, and an effective vaccine are needed to combat this disease. The Australian government has made some investments in these, but must double down its efforts, including by rebuilding the severely slashed aid budget, if it wants to make a serious impact on TB. Get well soon Patient Zero – I wish you a full recovery.