During the past couple of weeks I've been asked many times why I chose tuberculosis as the subject for my TED wish. Part of the answer is - that it came from experience. Since the year 2000 I've worked on a number of stories involving global health - and I kept encountering TB wherever I went. That TB is a huge health issue became obvious - as did the immense personal suffering being endured by the afflicted - and their families - people who already struggled to get by on the thinnest margin of existence - who were no longer able to work - spent what little they might have saved for medical care and were sometimes forced to sell their small farms to pay hospital costs. I saw so many people in pain, afraid, their way of life broken. My heart went out to them.
Despite the fact that tuberculosis afflicts a huge number of people - it's not on the radar screen in terms of public awareness. Maybe because TB is a disease of the poor - located for the most part in the developing world - it gets overlooked. When any critical issue becomes part of our mass consciousness, solutions become facilitated. Funding, research, new initiatives - are all necessary and happen much more quickly once a problem emerges from the shadows.
What makes tuberculosis such a worthwhile target - and please focus on this - it's preventable - it's treatable - and it's curable. With proper funding, organization and, above all, political will, TB can be stopped. Think of that. Millions of lives can be saved and millions more rescued from intense suffering. The medications exist - the means of diagnosis exist - methods of treating the disease exist. With the right combination of factors, money spent and efforts made will actually work.
The alternative to effective action has already begun to emerge, and it's a frightening picture. MDR-TB is a mutation caused by inadequate care or misdiagnosis. It's a hundred times more expensive to cure than normal TB, and requires much longer and more painful treatment. XDR-TB is a further mutation, for which there is no reliable cure. I see it as a merciless, man-eating predator lurking in the shadows. If it's not contained, the consequences could be dire. I think I should let the medical experts talk about epidemiology, but because XDR has emerged out of a vast TB-infected population, my reason for choosing tuberculosis as the subject of my TED wish became absolutely compelling.
The fact that an organization like TED exists - a network of brilliant, creative, entrepreneurial individuals who care about the world we live in and have made their resources available to make it a better place - gives me faith in our society.
Everything that's been done to make this global presentation possible has been done for the sake of the people you've seen in the photographs - and the millions of others like them. Keep a place for them in your hearts, make them part of your daily conversation, put them in your prayers - when you make a donation, don't forget them. Use this moment as a starting point to learn more: to spread the word.
My wish will not be fully realized until everyone who sees this presentation helps create a critical mass of awareness that stimulates action. TB can be contained and conquered. We can do it. If we don't, who will?
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