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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Commentary

Working to eradicate a disease that seems a thing of the past


Published:

Tuberculosis always seems so remote until a case is found at USF, and dozens of people need to be tested. But even then, it seems a disease of the past. Yet it lingers.

TB is the No. 1 killer of people with AIDS. It doesn’t respect national borders. The bacteria can be carried by someone who doesn’t even know they have it. In fact, one-third of the world’s population carries this preventable disease without being affected by it until conditions are right for it to become active.

A person with infectious TB can expel TB bacteria into the air when they cough, sneeze, laugh or even sing. The bacteria may be inhaled by others. If the bacteria reach the lungs, TB infection can occur. The body generally walls off the infection, but the infection can break through and become an active disease.

This often occurs when the immune system is weakened because of diabetes, HIV infection or another condition. If left untreated, someone with active TB will typically infect 10 to 15 people every year, mainly by coughing.

Although it isn’t as prevalent as it was perhaps a hundred years ago, it is still here. And it keeps adapting to create more vicious forms that are multi-drug resistant and harder to treat or can’t be treated at all.

We have people living in Florida who carry TB.

We have Floridians who travel and carry it back home.

We have visitors who carry it here.

We have made progress, but TB is not gone.

America has played an important part in working to eliminate TB by supporting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This organization has been essential in increasing treatment of TB in countries where getting knowledge, resources and access to infected people is limited.

Using cellphone technology, health workers who live among people who need treatment can now increasingly test them, get quick results and get treatment started. These workers can monitor the treatment so it isn’t interrupted, since a stop in treatment allows the disease to progress to a more difficult form — a more drug-resistant form.

The U.S. has invested well in the Global Fund. Each dollar we provide has been met with two dollars from other donors. The money gets right to the point of use as countries in need apply for grants to directly benefit people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

Each proposal is developed by the communities and countries themselves to meet their needs, and then evaluated by an independent review panel of experts. Ongoing funding is awarded based on performance and results. Each grant is audited, and an independent inspector general helps safeguard investments.

This is good for us. We have our own problems with TB to deal with in America. But we won’t do well if the disease isn’t eradicated in poorer countries. The elimination of TB and AIDS are linked since TB is so prevalent among AIDS victims.

TB is not an abstract issue that we should hope gets handled somewhere else by someone else.

We need to recognize our part as citizens to ensure our representatives in Congress know we want them to maintain current funding levels for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

It’s our job to call them in their district office or in Washington to tell them to support this funding.

If we don’t call them, they can do as they please, and we have no right to complain. It takes five minutes to get the number and call.

Do it and breathe easier.

Ken Schatz is a volunteer with the Tampa Bay chapter of RESULTS, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, citizens lobby working to end poverty. He lives in Tampa. The organization can be reached at resultstampabay@ gmail.com.

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