The World Health Organisation (WHO) took the commendable step to declare Tuberculosis (TB) a global health emergency. TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease and is the second biggest global pathogen killer after HIV/AIDS. It is also one of the world’s major causes of illness and death. Statistics show that one-third of the world’s population, that is two billion people, carry the TB bacteria, out of which no fewer than 10 million people contract this disease each year, and 1.4 million die from it, with one quarter being HIV/AIDS fatalities.
Last year, it was reported that fewer people fell under the scourge of TB, while an estimated 54 million TB deaths were averted since 2000 through global efforts. Also, one in four of the one million children who develop TB die; that is about 239,000 each year, compared to one in six adults who contract the disease.
Health authorities make it clear that TB is preventable, treatable, and curable, but only a few know this. Tuberculosis usually affects the lungs as well as causing adverse effects on other parts of the body. It is said to be contagious in nature and can spread through air, when a person already affected with the disease sneezes, or transmits respiratory fluids through the air in some other ways. The major symptoms of tuberculosis include chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats and weight loss.
However, the disease mainly impacts the developing economies and most of those who die live in Africa and Asia, and in countries such as India where TB is endemic. For instance, India accounts for 20 percent of world’s tuberculosis cases with about three million sufferers every year. But sadly, it is Africa where the death toll is highest and Nigeria is said to be among the 22 high-burden TB countries. Though, over the years, TB death rates had declined from 11 per cent in 2006 to five per cent in 2010, however, there is still the need for urgency on the part of the government to again look at its health indicators if it is to meet the target of ending TB by 2030
TB is an airborne disease which poses serious challenge to Nigeria and Nigerians. Overcrowding due to inadequate accommodation is the lot of most families and many Nigerians care little about the sanitary condition of their immediate environment. These, no doubt, cause setbacks to efforts to curtail the spread of the disease. Other challenges include inadequate health infrastructure and facilities, poor referral system, poor procurement and supply management system and poor donor coordination, locally and internationally.
But looking at the effects of tuberculosis every year, we believe that it is crucial to increase the tempo of sensitisation about the disease amongst the citizenry, particularly on prevention strategies, treatment methods and how the disease spreads. This can only be done through closing the gap between the private and public healthcare sector, which can bring about a major difference in fighting the disease.
It is therefore cheering news that political leaders will be gathering for the first-ever United Nations High-level Meeting on TB. It is our opinion that the commitments at the level of heads of state will galvanise multi-sectoral action on the fight against tuberculosis and provide a historic opportunity for the over 50 heads of state and government to take decisive action on the scourge. This upcoming September 26 meeting follows the Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB in Moscow last year that resulted in high-level commitments from nearly 120 countries pledging to accelerate the End TB Campaign.
But the more crucial challenges is how to scale up funding to meet the global target of ending TB by 2030. Countries need to urgently accelerate their domestic and international funding to fight the disease. We therefore commend the efforts of TB donor agencies working in Nigeria and other development partners – the WHO, TB Relief Association, Damien Foundation of Belgium, International Union against TB and Lung Disease, Canadian International Development Agency, UK Department for International Development and, in particular, United States Government and Global Fund as the major donors.
Above all, we commend the WHO’s new initiative to urgently improve detection, diagnosis and treatment rates aimed at providing quality care to people with TB, in which at least 30 million people will be able to access preventive treatment between 2018 and 2022, based on the new WHO direction. This should be a continuous and sustained campaign until a tuberculosis-free world is attained.
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