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On the occasion of the World Day against Tuberculosis which is commemorated on Friday, March 24, the World Health Organization warns that the battle to end the global tuberculosis epidemic will not be won unless the stigma is ended, discrimination and the marginalization of patients.
TB kills over 70,000 people every year in Pakistan
Progress has been made towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending the tuberculosis epidemic by 2030. The World Health Organization reports that 49 million lives have been saved since 2000. However, much remains to be done .
Data from 2015 show that more than 10.4 million people became ill and one million 800,000 died of tuberculosis, with the majority of cases and fatalities in developing countries.
Ernesto Jaramillo, WHO medical officer, says that vulnerable people such as migrants, prisoners, ethnic minorities, marginalized women and children are the most likely to suffer abuse, neglect and rejection, which prevents them from seeking treatment for tuberculosis .
“Having new tools for diagnosis and treatment for tuberculosis is not enough if there are no clear standards to ensure that vulnerable people can have access to these tools in priority in a way that the strategy for the end of tuberculosis can really serve the interest not only of individuals, but the interests of public health in general, “said Jaramillo.
The director of the world tuberculosis program of the WHO, Mario Raviglioni, told the Voice of America , that no country, rich or poor, is immune from tuberculosis and warned marginalized patients with tuberculosis is a danger.
“You can not eliminate a disease like tuberculosis by thinking about building walls or isolating a country. Tuberculosis is an airborne disease. So, if you have a Boeing 747 that leaves Malawi tonight and comes to Switzerland tomorrow morning and that’s it. Then it has to be confronted with a global perspective.”
TB is a leading infectious cause of death worldwide. Pakistan ranks 6th globally among the 22 high TB burden countries and contributes an estimated 43 per cent of the disease towards the Eastern Mediterranean region of the World Health Organisation. Pakistan is also estimated to have the fourth highest prevalence of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) globally. Whereas globally 9.6 million fall ill and 1.5 million die due to TB every year. Over 95 per cent of TB deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
The new ethical guidelines of the WHO include overcoming barriers of stigma, discrimination and marginalization of people with tuberculosis. The agency says that protecting the human rights of those affected will save many lives and make it possible to put an end to this global scourge.
Tuberculosis is a disease of poverty and poor, malnourished, diabetic patients using corticosteroid drugs, drug addicts, smokers, elderly, HIV-infected patients, alcoholics and people living in overcrowded institution like prison. A large number of people infected with the tuberculosis bacilli are not diagnosed either because of poverty or because of lack of awareness about the seriousness of the disease. The delay in diagnosis along with unsupervised, inappropriate and inadequate drug regimens, poor follow up and lack of social support programmes for high-risk population, are some of the reasons for not reaching the target rates and emergence of a drug resistant form of tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is a treatable disease with six months course of antibiotics. However, prevention is better than cure. It can be prevented by BCG vaccination and by awareness raising campaigns on a mass scale. If somebody has the symptoms of tuberculosis, one should report to the nearest health care centres to get their sputum tested free of cost. Tuberculosis patients should not be stigmatised and must receive full support from family and community. To reduce the burden of the disease in Pakistan there is a dire need to increase awareness among public and especially among the youth through mass media.