The Next Big Epidemic: The Wave of Tuberculosis
In the midst of the current widespread Ebola outbreak, we have to stop and think. What is the next epidemic – and are we already facing it?
Even though tuberculosis is treatable, it is spreading rapidly, taking the lives of over 1.5 million people each year. Much like Ebola it has been around for years and those in the global health community are working to end it, but it doesn’t get the media coverage that it deserves for playing a role in so many deaths.
What is Tuberculosis: TB is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is normally presents in the lungs. It is curable and preventable with proper treatment and care. TB is spread through coughing, sneezing and spit when the germs are in the air. Nearly one-third of the world’s population has been infected by the TB bacteria but the disease is dormant, meaning they are not yet ill with the disease and are not contagious. People with compromised immune systems, like HIV patients and malnourished children, are at a much higher risk of becoming ill with TB.
Why it should scare us: Tuberculosis is highly contagious and airborne and is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide.
In the United States we know what TB stands for, but has abbreviating a life-threatening disease that kills millions taken away some of the impact? Tuberculosis infects less than 10,000 people each year in the US, and takes the lives of just under 600 annually. Now let’s look at the global scale:
The WHO estimates that in 2013, 9 million people contracted Tuberculosis – 550,000 of those were children. We can’t ignore that this is ‘epidemic’ proportion in terms of lives lost. A person ill with Tuberculosis can infect up to 15 people through close contact over the course of a year. Without proper treatment, up to two thirds of those infected will die.
How do we stop it?: We need to start by building healthcare infrastructures in the most highly infected regions, including the southern part of Africa and Asia. We have to start in the country of origin and prepare for future outbreaks of not just Tuberculosis but other infectious diseases as well.
The WHO estimates that over 37 million lives were saved by early effective diagnosis and treatment of Tuberculosis. The global health community is prepositioned with medicines and supplies to treat this threat.
MAP International is a global health organization that partners with people living in conditions of poverty to save lives and develop healthier families and communities. Learn more about MAP International at www.map.org