By d’Arcy Lunn
As a kid growing up on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, I didn’t expect to be working on a tuberculosis-themed flashmob in western Kyrgyzstan when I grew up.
For one thing, I didn’t know where Kyrgyzstan was, or even that it existed. And I’d certainly never heard of tuberculosis (TB). My youth in Minlaton and Kadina revolved around religiously playing cricket in summer and footy in winter. TB had no meaning in my life then, but it certainly does now.
Fast forward to today, and 15 years of volunteering, working and learning in over 80 countries has taught me this: the only reason I didn’t face the threat of TB, polio or other preventable diseases was because I won the lottery of life. I was lucky enough to be born on the Yorke Peninsula.
I’ve met many kids who aren’t so lucky, and committed my life to doing something about it.
Which is how I recently found myself preparing for World TB Day with Red Cross/Crescent volunteers in rural Kyrgyzstan, perfecting our routine for a flashmob. I also visited schools to share good health practices, met with health professionals and gave health promotion workshops.
I was doing this because Kyrgyzstan has one of the most resistant strains of TB in the world. Globally, 9 million people get sick with TB each year, and about 1.5 million people die. One third of cases are not detected. The tools to tackle TB are inadequate, with drug-resistance a continuing problem, especially in Kyrgyzstan. This is why I was in Kyrgyzstan working as a communications specialist with UNICEF collaborating with Red Cross. On Australian shores a number of Federal MPs from South Australia also did their bit by signing the Barcelona Declaration, an initiative of the Global TB Caucus.
Here’s the thing; it’s not all bad news. Since 2000, deaths from TB have dropped by 41% globally, including Kyrgyzstan. So too has the stigma attached to people living with TB.
Much of this progress is thanks to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria who, since 2002, have funded programs enabling 15 million people worldwide to access treatment for TB, and who provide 70% of global financing to fight TB. The Global Fund has funded programs that have saved an estimated 17 million lives so far, and they aim to prevent another 8 million deaths by 2020.
This year, Australia has the opportunity to contribute $300 million to the Global Fund’s life-saving work. TB may not be a big issue on the Yorke Peninsula, or anywhere in Australia, but 58% of TB cases are right on our doorstep in the Asia-Pacific region.
So what can the average Australian like you do? You can spread the word and create a culture of Australians who care about a healthy world, everywhere. Talk to your MP and urge Australian action to fight TB.
I live by the idea of knowing my personal choices, decisions and actions have a positive impact on people and the planet no matter where I am. I pledge to play my part to end this epidemic. Do you?
d’Arcy Lunn is an aid and development worker. As Founder of Teaspoons of Change, and through collaborations with RESULTS and the Campaign for Australian Aid, he empowers people to take informed action to see the end of extreme poverty. He is still religious about footy and cricket.