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United Nations: Poverty, Wrong Use of Drugs Worsening Spread of TB

FILE - Director of WHO’s Global TB Program, Mario Raviglione.

FILE - Director of WHO’s Global TB Program, Mario Raviglione.

Zimbabwe joined other nations on Thursday in commemorating world TB day, which is designed to raise public awareness of tuberculosis and ways of preventing and treating the disease.

According to the Herald newspaper, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease has spent about $18 million in the past five years to support TB programs in Zimbabwe.

Other organizations engaged in tackling TB in the nation include the United Nations Development Program and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Tuberculosis is a deadly and infectious bacterial disease that kills millions of people annually, and health organizations are using this year’s commemorations to call on everyone to unite to end TB.

According to UNAIDS, “when HIV weakens a person’s immune system this creates a greater susceptibility to TB infection. The disease is very difficult to diagnose and more complicated to treat in people who are HIV positive.”

Algerian-based, Zimbabwean junior doctor, Chipo Chatukuta, says not much is known about the deadly nature of TB compared HIV/AIDS.

“Very few people understand the gravity of this disease because most people know that it can be cured, it can be treated, it can be prevented,” she said. “People take HIV more seriously because they know it’s a disease that cannot be cured.”

She says the community and other corporate organizations can support TB initiatives to end the epidemic through collaborative efforts with health institutions.

TB patient, 53-year-old Annie Chitamba, says she finds it embarrassing to explain to people her condition, and that life has become difficult for her.

“Sometimes it’s embarrassing to have to explain to everyone,” Chitamba, who has three children, said. “It’s difficult for me, it’s just a change of life … Life is a real challenge, I have been lying down for three months, I can’t work, and because I can’t work like I used to, it’s hard to even provide basics for myself like food. The medication I needs food.”

Chitamba said, “Families should support those with TB, and be patient with them. We need your support and we need your love. And for those with TB like me, be strong and do not give up, you will make it.”

In a message to mark World TB Day, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said, this is a time to urge action to stop tuberculosis, a disease which still kills an appalling 4,000 people every day.

He said the man-made multi-drug resistant strain and its even more lethal form, extensively drug-resistant TB, are both spreading.

“If we are to prevent a virtually untreatable tuberculosis epidemic, we must tackle the roots of the problem: poor services, poor supplies, poor prescribing and poor use of drugs. That is why the theme of this year’s Day is ‘I am Stopping TB’. This is a fight that can be won only with the collective commitment of millions of individuals -- donors and researchers, doctors and health care workers, patients and family members.”

He thanked a broad coalition of partners working to stop TB saying the proportion of people who become ill with the disease is slowly falling. But this progress, he said, is not keeping pace with population growth, “so more and more people are becoming infected with tuberculosis.”

The World Health Organization recently issued a report painting a grim picture of the spread of drug-resistant TB in a number of countries. Tuberculosis is more deadly when it intersects with the HIV epidemic.

“We must intensify the global response in order to save lives. The United Nations will convene a global leaders’ HIV/TB Forum this June in an effort to boost our collective capacity to drive down HIV-associated TB deaths. In this effort, we can draw inspiration from a number of African countries which have shown that it is possible to scale-up services that reach out and screen TB patients for HIV, screen HIV-infected people for TB and initiate care.”

Rwanda, for example, provides HIV screening for more than three quarters of all people in TB care settings. Kenya and Malawi have also made major strides.

He said these impressive advances are the result of the efforts of individuals. According to the UN secretary general, ‘I am stopping TB’ is not just the theme for this Day, “but a pledge we must uphold as we battle the epidemic throughout the year and into the future.”