By Roberta Attanasio
World TB Day, falling on March 24th each year, is approaching — it reminds us that tuberculosis (TB) is a massive global health problem. Indeed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), tuberculosis is one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases. It is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.
In 2013, an estimated 9.0 million people developed TB and 1.5 million died from it — mostly in developing countries. However, TB is curable and preventable. The WHO estimates that 37 million lives were saved between 2000 and 2013 through effective diagnosis and treatment. Despite the many saved lives, the death toll is still unacceptably high. Last month, Anthony S. Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “Progress is being made in the international fight against TB; however, the disease remains entrenched in many countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
TB is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It spreads from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB bacteria into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these bacteria to become infected. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB — people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot spread the bacteria.
When a person develops active TB (disease), the symptoms (cough, fever, night sweats, weight loss and others) may be mild for many months. For this reason, people with active TB may delay seeking care, and bacteria can spread to others. People ill with TB can infect up to 10-15 other people through close contact over the course of a year. Without proper treatment, up to two thirds of people ill with TB will die. Unfortunately, the vaccine currently available to prevent TB has limited efficacy.
Healthcare workers who come into contact with patients affected by active TB are at considerable risk of contracting the disease. Indeed, every day, millions of healthcare workers around the world put their lives at risk as they combat tuberculosis. They’re vulnerable to TB exposure and infection. And they deserve to be protected. Therefore, Aeras — a nonprofit biotech advancing the development of new tuberculosis vaccines for the world — launched the TB UNMASKED campaign on September 24, 2014. TB UNMASKED supports and empowers people who put themselves at risk of tuberculosis infection through caring for patients, and gives healthcare workers on the front lines of the TB epidemic the opportunity to tell their stories using photographs, videos, or text. These healthcare workers are literally dying while caring for others. Their stories are important and must be told.
Matthew Feldman, project manager of TB UNMASKED, said: “Our goal is to give all these health-care workers’ stories a larger platform so that they see themselves as a part of the global TB community and become empowered to seek better protection for themselves and their colleagues.”
Below is one of the stories: