THE World Health Organisation (WHO) says Tuberculosis (TB) is a global pandemic, killing one person in every 20 seconds.
“TB is global. About two billion people are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis; in 2013 alone, the disease killed nearly 1.5 million,” it says.
The global health agency says that TB is “second only to HIV as the leading infectious killer of adults worldwide.
“It is also among the three greatest causes of death of women, aged 15 to 44 years, and it is the leading infectious cause of death among people living with HIV and AIDS.
“TB is a leading killer of HIV-positive people, causing one-fourth of all HIV-related deaths,’’ it adds.
According to medical experts, TB is caused by a pathogenic bacterial species known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which often affects the lungs.
They add that the disease is spread from person to person through the air.
“When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected,” the experts say.
A WHO report, however, indicates that about one-third of the world’s population has latent TB (a situation whereby a person, who is infected by TB bacteria, has yet to manifest the disease and cannot transmit it).
It mostly affects young adults in their most productive years. However, all age groups are at risk, with over 95 per cent of cases and deaths recorded in developing countries.
HIV-positive persons are 26 to 31 times more likely to suffer from TB, as HIV and TB form a fatal combination, each speeding the other’s progress.
The risk of contracting active TB is also greater in persons suffering from other conditions that impair the immune system.
The WHO report notes that the use of tobacco greatly increases the risk of TB disease and death.
“It accounts for more than 20 per cent of TB cases worldwide,’’ it adds.
As part of efforts to draw global attention to the health problem, March 24 is celebrated every year as the World Tuberculosis Day and the day is designed to build public awareness about tuberculosis and efforts to eliminate the disease.
Nevertheless, WHO has initiated six core strategies in efforts to address TB. These include providing global leadership on matters critical to TB; developing evidence-based policies, strategies and standards for TB prevention, care and control, while monitoring their implementation.
Others are providing technical support to member states; catalysing change and building sustainable capacity; monitoring the global TB situation, and measuring progress in TB care, control and financing, among others.
Mr Umar Bako, the Coordinator, TB/Leprosy Control, Gwagwalada Town Clinic, Abuja, says that there are two types of tuberculosis — the extra-pulmonary TB and the pulmonary TB.
He says that the extra-pulmonary TB, which is not infectious, affects any part of the body such as the bone, skin and brain, among others, while the pulmonary TB affects mostly the lungs.
“Because lung TB is productive; one can cough it out and when that is the case, another person may inhale it through dust.
“The person will start to have symptoms of TB, especially if the immune system of the person is not strong,” he adds.
Bako notes that the signs of TB include cough, sometimes with blood, sneeze, chest pains and fever, among others, adding that these signs may last for more than two weeks.
He, however, insists that whoever manifests such signs ought to undergo a medical test to ascertain whether the condition it is TB or not.
He, therefore, advises people to go for TB screening to ensure its early detection and management, adding that those who are already on treatment should strictly adhere to the treatment schedule so as to avoid drug resistance.
Bako says that the treatment for TB is for six months, noting that patients, who adhere to the treatment schedule from the beginning to the end, will be cured of the disease.
Also speaking, Dr Patrick Dakum, the Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Human Virology of Nigeria, urges the Federal Government to strengthen its efforts to curb TB afflictions in the country.
He cites the report of a survey conducted in 2012, which indicates that the TB prevalence rate in Nigeria stands at 322/100,000 population.
Dakum, however, insists that in efforts to prevent TB, pragmatic plans ought to be made to identify suspected TB sufferers before moving to contain the infection.
‘If you do not want TB to spread, we should first of all ensure that persons, who have the mycobacterium, are not allowed to cough it around the community.
“Once we identify those people, we isolate them for the purpose of treatment.
“Once we do that on a large scale, we will be able to reduce TB transmission and, therefore, minimise the number of those suffering from the disease.
“If we do not do something about finding those who have TB and treating them very promptly, we run the risk of having several other people contracting the disease.
“Every additional index case you get has a potential for spreading to other people.
“So, the onus lies on all stakeholders to raise public awareness about TB, while our health care system should be repositioned to isolate those suffering from the disease for prompt health care,’’ he says.
Dakum, however, notes that the mortality rate for TB is low, when compared to Ebola and other communicable diseases, stressing that TB could be treated and well-managed if identified early enough.
Nevertheless, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, says that sustained research and prevention are crucial in efforts to create a tuberculosis-free world by 2035.
“With some 37 million lives saved between 2000 and 2013 through the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, it is clear that we are within sight of one of the greatest global health victories.
“We have the opportunity not just to reverse the spread of tuberculosis but, by 2035, to end this epidemic that continues to bring suffering to so many families worldwide.”
Ban urges governments, communities affected by tuberculosis and health workers around the world to intensify their efforts to eradicate tuberculosis, in line with the ambitious strategy of the World Health Assembly in 2014 to end the global epidemic within two decades.
“While the achievement by 2015 of one of the key health-focused Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), namely the reversal of the spread of tuberculosis, is significant, the World Tuberculosis Day reminds governments and communities that this is no time for complacency.
“Efforts must begin now to ensure the effective global roll-out of the ‘End TB’ strategy and stimulate research that will underpin its success,” the UN scribe says.