The dangers of tuberculosis
It’s summer. You and your friends are riding a bus going to that wonderful vacation spot you have been planning several months ago. Inside the bus, a 40-year-old man is coughing – without covering his mouth – profusely in the duration of the three-hour travel. He has been coughing for nearly three weeks before deciding to take a leave from his construction job in Pasay to consult a doctor in his hometown. After a thorough check-up, he is diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).
You may wonder: What’s your chance of having TB, too?
“The risk of TB transmission will depend on several factors including proximity to the person with TB and duration of exposure,” Venus Grecia, World Vision’s Health and Nutrition Specialist, said. A person’s immune system is also a major factor that would make one more susceptible to TB bacteria that spreads through air.
TB is considered one of the highly infectious diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that about one-quarter of the world’s population has latent TB.
“This means that either you or a member of our family already has the TB bacteria ‘sleeping’ in your body. But since your health is still ok, the bacteria cannot take its course of action. Once our health fails, say we continuously get sick for weeks, then the TB bacteria may ‘wake up’ and take over our body. That’s why maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important. It is our first defense against the TB bacteria,” Grecia said.
In 2016, an estimated 10.4 million people worldwide reportedly has TB. The number is nearly thrice the size of the population of the province of Cavite. Of the total number, 64% came only from 7 countries: Philippines, India, Indonesia, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and South Africa.
TB can lead to death. The TB bacteria can multiply and affect not only the lungs but other parts of the body damaging internal organs. WHO reported that in 2016 there were 1.7 million people who died of TB, most of which are from the low and middle-income countries.
The good news and the bad news
TB is curable. In the Philippines, TB-related facilities have greatly improved over the years. There are several DOTS (Directly-Observed Treatment Short course) centers helping people with TB. In 2000, within a span of five years since 1995 when the Philippine government started to strengthen its TB intervention, the country reported 100% TB-DOTS coverage nationwide.
People with TB have to continuously undergo medications for six months. Treatment must not stop within that six months period or one’s case will worsen. “In this period, a TB treatment partner is very important. The partner ensures that the TB patient takes his/her medicines regularly. World Vision’s TB treatment partners called TB Task Forces know how important their task is in ensuring that their TB patient-partner will complete their treatment and eventually get cured,” Grecia said.
A TB patient who stops taking medications within the six-month period may end up as MDR-TB or multi-drug resistant, which is more difficult and longer to cure. A person with MDR-TB usually undergoes 18 to 24 months of treatment and the medicines are more expensive.
The bad news is MDR-TB cases are increasing and becoming a health threat. According to WHO, in 2016, there were 600, 000 new cases that are resistance to rifampicin, the first-line of TB drug, of which 490,000 had MDR-TB .
Raising awareness about TB
Every March, the Philippines holds an awareness campaign that gathers individuals from government and non-government organizations. Most of these individuals are from the medical practitioners and TB advocates.
“Sadly, many in the rural communities are not yet fully aware of the dangers of TB. There are still a number of unreported TB cases. People do not report either because one assumes that coughing is just that – a cough. Sometimes, TB patients never consult to health centers for fear of being shamed. The TB Task Forces help increase people’s awareness to avoid stigmatizing patients or possible patients.,” Grecia, who visits World Vision areas in Luzon to train community groups to become TB Task Forces, said.
Recently, several groups from private and government sectors attended a ceremony at the Quezon City Memorial Circle to share the status of TB cases in the Philippines. Anchored on the theme “Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free Philippines,” the groups called on government officials and individuals to join in the government’s effort, such as community mobilization and enhancing TB treatment facilities, to make the Philippines TB-free by year 2035. World Vision/March 22, 2018
World Vision is a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.