For the first time since tuberculosis (TB) surfaced centuries ago, we can see the possibility of living in a TB-free world. Unlike other global health diseases, TB is curable. What TB lacks is the political will to provide resources to prevent and treat TB and support for research to find even more effective diagnostic tools.
Living in a TB-free world would change the global health landscape. TB would no longer be the leading infectious disease killer – stealing the lives of 1.8 million people a year. Many of the two hundred children a day who currently die from TB would be saved from horrible suffering. Hundreds of thousands of people with HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B would not succumb to TB.
And for many of those who do survive, the profound and permanent side effects of drug treatment – deafness, blindness, kidney and liver failure –wouldn’t plague them for the rest of their lifetimes. Poor access and retention in treatment would be reduced, lessening the risk of drug-resistant TB.
The often paralyzing impact of stigma from TB would begin to disappear replaced by hope for a better future.
The impact of a TB-free world on our health care system would be enormous.
With TB occurring during peak working years, the inexorable spiral into poverty would be avoided for hundreds of thousands of families a year. About $12 billion is lost in economic productivity due to TB according to the World Health Organization. Effective treatment can give an individual in the middle of his/her productive life about 20 additional years of life. Local economies would thrive having a positive impact on a nation’s economic standing. Nations would be less vulnerable to political instability as economies got stronger.
The impact of a TB-free world on our health care system would be enormous. Doctors and nurses would not have to put their own health on the line every time they treated a patient with TB. Hospitals could provide better care for their patients if they weren’t overwhelmed with managing patients with TB. Health systems could save millions of dollars and countless hours currently invested in screening health care workers.
And once TB is contained, human, laboratory, procurement and distribution resources would be available to treat people with non-communicable diseases. In addition, by investing in systems that combat TB, systems will have been created that can be used during infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola.
When I was the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, we announced that an AIDS-free Generation was possible. Many thought it couldn’t be done, but the world is on a strong path to do so.
With an infusion of resources, we can get on a path to create a TB-free world. And we can say that we finally beat a disease that has been around since the time of the Egyptian mummies.
On this World TB Day, let’s imagine a world free from TB. Then, let’s make it so.
This post is part of the ‘Tuberculosis Today’ series produced by The Huffington Post highlighting the challenges of combatting TB. Tuberculosis is now back in the top ten causes of death globally, and it is the world’s leading infectious disease killer despite being curable and preventable.