Africare News Release

 

Fighting a Disease With a Cure — Africare Reflects on World Tuberculosis Day: March 24, 2007

Washington, DC, March 24, 2007 — In 2001, 3-year-old Allison of Newport News, Virginia, was told that she was to receive her first “TB shot.” She was taken aback by the thought of a shot of any kind and grew squirmier by the minute. So her mother and doctor made a game of it — this was no ordinary shot, but more like Hide 'n' Go Seek.

“If you have tuberculosis, it’s hiding in your body where we can’t see it,” Allison’s mother began. “But if you take this shot, a small bump will rise up on your skin after 2 days. And we’ve got to find that bump if you’re sick in order to get you better. Do you think you can help us look for it?”

Growing more curious, Allison accepted the challenge, took the shot and began probing her arm for a bump over the next 2 days. None emerged.

Allison’s story follows the theme for this year’s World Tuberculosis Day, “TB anywhere is TB everywhere,” and sends an important reminder that that TB can be found in any part of the world.

Each year, about 15,000 Americans are infected with tuberculosis (TB), a serious respiratory infection that spreads with ease through the air. TB is transmitted by coughing and sneezing; and can develop into a disease that, if left untreated, causes death in more than half its victims. But 15,000 U.S. infections do not compare to the almost 2 million deaths TB causes annually around the world — most concentrated in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa — despite the fact that a cost-effective cure for TB was developed more than 50 years ago.

In 2007, tuberculosis remains one of the world's leading infectious killers — second only to HIV/AIDS. The Global Tuberculosis Control Report, released last week by World Health Organization (WHO), finds that the percentage of the world's population struck by TB peaked in 2004 and then held steady in 2005. An estimated 1.6 million people died of the disease in 2005; 195,000 of them also were living with HIV/AIDS, a fatal combination. TB still kills more than 4,000 people every day worldwide — particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV/AIDS dramatically fuels the TB epidemic.

“HIV/AIDS weakens the immune system, making the body susceptible to infections,” says Africare Health and HIV/AIDS Technical Specialist, Dr. Kechi Anah. “More so than any other infection, the TB bacteria accelerates the progress of the AIDS infection and is a major cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS. TB is associated with 1 of 3 AIDS deaths.”

Yet another concern, according to Anah, remains the spread of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). TB can usually be treated with a course of four standard, or first-line, anti-TB drugs. However, if those drugs are misused or mismanaged, multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) can develop. MDR-TB takes longer to treat with second-line drugs. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) can develop when these second-line drugs are also misused or mismanaged and therefore also become ineffective. Treatment options for extensively drug-resistant TB are seriously limited and the risk of death remains extremely high.

Africare programs in Senegal and South Africa, among other countries, aim to prevent TB as well as to expand access to quality treatment and care for people infected with tuberculosis. The Injongo Yethu Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Project was established in the Eastern Cape of South Africa — the country’s poorest province — in 2004 to expand access to quality TB and HIV prevention, diagnostic, treatment and care services. Dr. Anah has worked closely with the project since its inception.

“You cannot look at one without examining the other,” says Anah. “The collaboration between TB and HIV programs is a necessity and key to reducing the burden of TB among people living with HIV/AIDS, and HIV among TB patients.”

Africare’s project in the Eastern Cape is using a continuum of prevention, treatment and support services to reach out to more than 10,000 people living with the HIV/AIDS virus and their home-care providers in its target areas. HIV testing and education for TB patients, and TB testing and education for people living with HIV, have been incorporated into the screening of each patient attended to through the project.

Similar strategies have been adopted within Africare’s project in Senegal in order to reduce sickness and mortality in tuberculosis and malaria patients.

As a member of the World Health Organization’s "StopTB Partnership," Africare remains committed to eradicating TB compeletely.

 

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