Winning the War on Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis continues to kill millions around the world each year, especially in Africa. Eradicating the disease is possible, but only if African governments begin developing a multi-sector, integrated approach to containing and controlling it.
JOHANNESBURG – The world is finally waking up to the threat posed by one of the most overlooked diseases of our time. Last month, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) hosted the first-ever high-level meeting on tuberculosis (TB) to explore options for international eradication efforts. But, as welcome as this new global focus is, the fact remains that the road to beating TB begins in Africa.
Simply put, TB remains one of the deadliest epidemics in Africa today, and one-quarter of all TB deaths worldwide occur there. In 2016, some 417,000 people on the continent succumbed to the disease. Recent outbreaks of multidrug-resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB in South Africa, Mozambique, and Ghana could push the annual death toll even higher. These pockets of the bacterium, now completely immune to antimicrobial treatment, mean that the challenge of global eradication has become even more daunting.
Part of the reason for TB’s persistence is the vulnerability of the populations it infects. For starters, TB is among the leading killers of HIV-positive people, claiming some 40% of those who die from HIV. This poses dangers for non-HIV patients as well, especially those with suppressed immune systems, young children, and infants.