We need to unite to end TB

 

By Tania Rivera-Hernandez, citizen advocate with the RESULTS Brisbane Group

On March 24th we commemorated World TB Day. What did the day mean for you? Maybe not much. TB is a disease of the past, right?

Back in the 80s my grandma fell sick with TB. Living in rural Mexico, it was not easy for her to get proper treatment. She had to travel to Mexico City to get a diagnosis. The disease was tough on her, requiring a long year of painful treatment. Living far away from the hospital meant my grandpa had to step up and become her nurse, injecting her with antibiotics for a whole year.

Despite being a tough journey, my grandma was able to recover and return to her normal life. However not everyone around the world has the same luck.

Here are some facts that shocked me, and may shock you as well.

TB is the biggest infectious disease killer in the world. In 2014, it was responsible for 1.5 million deaths around the world and one third of the world’s population is currently infected.

TB is not only hard to detect but also hard to treat. Just like my Grandma did 30 years ago, patients have to take medications that make them feel unwell for months. Often the side-effects of the treatment mean that patients can’t go to school or work and find it difficult to look after their families. People between 35 and 54 years old, who are the productive core of families and communities, have the highest burden of disease. This means that TB is a significant barrier to communities moving out of poverty.

But there are good news. Ending this ancient disease as an epidemic by 2030 is a priority of the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s an ambitious target, but a necessary one that will require substantial political will.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is a colossal global effort that has, delivered TB treatment to 15 million people since 2002. The programs they fund have prevented 17 million TB, HIV and malaria related deaths. They aim to prevent 8 million more, and have committed to provide support and offer TB treatment to Syrian immigrants settled in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.

This is great news, but in order to meet the 2030 goal, the Global Fund need investment from donors. They need us, engaged citizens who can build political will amongst our political representatives.

The recent launch of the Australian TB Caucus was a positive step forward, with parliamentarians aiming to draw attention to the disease and its devastating effects in our region. As a Queenslander I am proud to see our state well represented in this Caucus, with Warren Entsch, George Christensen, Jane Prentice, Claire Moore, Teresa Gambaro, and Ken O’Dowd all founding members.

Australia has been an active supporter of the Global Fund, and for every dollar Australia has contributed, the Global Fund invested $20 in fighting epidemics and strengthening health care systems in our region – the Indo-Pacific – where almost 60% of TB cases are found.

To me, this is a smart investment that should continue.

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