Unmask the complexities of TB, a pigeonholed curable disease

Roger Paul Kamugasha, CNS Correspondent, Uganda
The time is closing fast to prevent millions of people dying from susceptible and multi drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). We need an initiative that will go beyond the intermittent paper declarations that have failed to end TB. We need a marshal plan to generate investments with the potential to lessen the interstate barriers to end deaths caused by this disease and increase productivity—a plan embedded in a multi sectoral framework working towards one global goal. Hundreds of declarations to end the disease have been made, global targets are set every 3-5 years, extensive research and studies have been done.

Yet TB remains a global threat. Where and what is the missing link?  To me, it is time to tear down the walls of ignorance, of indifference and of divided attention of our global leaders that surround this ancient disease. We not only have to end TB, but also concurrently end decades of informed refusal in order to turn the TB nightmare into a dream of hope and compassion for generations to come.

We need the vigour likened to that which ended discrimination and segregation in the US, we need the zeal that ended apartheid in South Africa, we need the best orators, we need the courage and determination of leadership to reverse this tragic impact of TB on the human race.

My passion to end TB is driven by my encounter with this disease that wiped my family. My wife and son are counted among the millions of TB deaths and my remaining daughter and I have stood out to create awareness and demystify the burden of this curable disease.

The actual complexities of TB have been pigeonholed long enough; it is time to have them unmasked. TB survivors should not stand silent engrossed in self stigma and ignorance anymore, but step out to disseminate the message. It is alleged that TB killed John Keats the English romantic poet, George Orwell the famous author of Animal Farm, and Nelson Mandela the anti-apartheid revolutionary President of South Africa. The escalating mortality rate due to this disease, demeans the world order and needs immediate global attention. Like Nelson Mandela had said, ‘it always seems impossible until it is done’. Well, let us do it.

The global burden of the disease has touched every continent. In Europe, where the TB burden is amongst the lowest in the world, the number of new MDR-TB cases is very high. In Africa TB continues to impose a huge burden on the already overstretched health services. The Asia Pacific region is home to two thirds of the 9 million people that are ill with TB globally. TB remains a public health priority for the Caribbean region with more than 30,000 new cases occurring every year.

The myths on TB have outlived the sense of innovation and determination in ending the disease. We need tangible and concrete strides to reverse the epidemic. Rising poverty levels have helped exacerbate the TB burden.

Politically, the wall of vested interests in disease control must be dismantled. Leaders need to adhere to their constitutional mandate of being accountable to the people they lead. We need the attention of Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the consideration of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, the resilience of British Premier Theresa May, the compassion of France’s President Emmanuel Macroni, the affirmation of United Nations’ Antonio Gutterres, the specificity of the European Union and a concerted effort of the African Union to turn words into tangible actions. It is no longer business as usual, rather it is a time for a clarion call to stop doing things the same way while expecting different results.

We need to raise TB awareness in schools, religious places of worship, refugee camps, prisons, and in public places like train/bus stations, beaches, bars, parks and streets. The private sector must not be left behind. We have to develop synergies with the World Investment and Economic Forums to strengthen the narrative that ending TB is a priority in shaping the 21st century investment policies. The business community should adopt a stewardship to end TB by 2035. A demand for action is what we are looking forward to.

TB is the world’s biggest infectious killer, killing over 4500 people every day. Current global actions and investments fall far short of what is needed. It is time to secure commitment at the highest level. We need to frequently remind our leaders of the need to increase funding for TB prevention and care from the current level of USD 6-7 billion to around USD 10-12 billion per annum.

For the TB survivors, it is time to storm every platform until your voices are heard. You should fight whatever the cost may be. Where everybody knows TB and its symptoms and cause. We should not live in infamy in tribute to our dear ones who died and those who survived. Can you imagine a new hopeful world without TB? We can and we shall.

Roger Paul Kamugasha, Citizen News Service - CNS

December 10, 2018