Need for continued conversations on TB

Diana Wangari, CNS Correspondent, Kenya
(First published in The Star, Kenya) 
On March 24 we marked World TB Day and, as we have come to expect during such celebrations, TB was in the news: There was an article and news brief here and there in the newspapers; there was a mention of the acknowledgement of the day on the radio stations and a segment in the news in the TV stations. More so, there was perhaps, a breakfast meeting held somewhere and at a different location - multiple locations even – and so were events held to mark the World TB Day.

As it has come to be the norm, a few politicians and stakeholders gathered to share a word or two, reiterate their support for TB initiatives and call for 'further support and focus'.

And after TB has had its 24 hours of fame, we move on to the next thing, seemingly awaiting the next year when once again it shall be TB's moment to shine and only sooner if there is a tragic story or a scandal of some sort or a huge donation has been made that requires publicity. But let us face it, there is enough funding to meet the disease burden, as it is, and we have been fighting this war for quite some time now, there have not been any new drugs that have been released in a while; it follows that a donation will not just appear out of the blues. However, isn't every TB death a tragic story and shouldn't it even qualify to be preposterous for the mere fact that TB is treatable. Yet people are still dying and despite decades of its existence, some cases still go undiagnosed or worse, misdiagnosed. Perhaps, the greatest tragedy of all is the increasing incidence of childhood TB, which indeed is a cause for alarm.

Therefore, while World TB Day comes and goes and while we go on with our daily lives awaiting the next year, TB pushes on and evolves with newer strains of drug resistance-- cases of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) are on the increase and, if that is not troubling enough, there is extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) too.  It is quite likely that many amongst you readers, if you are not a health professional or one who keeps abreast with health information, have never heard of MDR-TB or XDR-TB and if you have, just in passing.

 It takes a minimum of six months to complete a TB treatment course, which includes multiple drugs. Now imagine if there was resistance to not one, but two of the most powerful of the anti-TB drugs MDR-TB would raise its ugly head requiring at least 24 months of a more rigorous treatment;  and if the form of TB is resistant to at least four of the core anti-TB drugs, it would be XDR-TB .

The number of pills taken is in itself a burden and the time period a challenge, how then would you describe the life of someone with MDR-TB or XDR-TB?

We have to do much more than merely wait for World TB day to arrive to highlight the plight of those living with TB. We ought to challenge ourselves to ensure that such celebrations are to chart the progress we have made, and to ensure that we do better in the coming years. But that can only happen if we have continued conversations on and around TB.

(First published in The Star, Kenya)  

26 March 2015