Ask me about my friend Claudia. Ask me about how she died from tuberculosis here in the United States eight months ago.
Ask me about her husband Romel, who not only watched his young wife suffer greatly from this disease, but also lost his baby, Emma, born prematurely during this tragedy.
Ask me about Claudia’s exceptional professional life, working across the country as a health-care advocate for the poor, touching lives every time she looked into someone’s eyes.
As for Romel, he worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, had access to some of the best medicine in the world, yet he was unable to save Claudia’s life.
TB is stealing far too many lives from our global community. Thousands of people will die today from TB. However, the mention of TB in the United States will likely be met with surprise since it is considered a disease of the past. TB has not, in any way, been eradicated, nor does it adhere to geographic boundaries. TB kills 2 million people a year, infects 8 million each year, and already infects one third of our planet.
For many, TB enters into a compromised immune system. We may never know what actually triggered Claudia’s active TB, but her system was in a state of change in a way she and her husband had wished for many years: she was pregnant. A more common association with TB globally is when someone is suffering from HIV/AIDS. TB takes advantage of the suppressed immune system and begins creating havoc, all too often resulting in death. TB is the biggest killer of those with HIV and AIDS. Nelson Mandela put it succinctly, “… we cannot win the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB. TB is too often a death sentence for people with AIDS.”
Here in Snohomish County, the majority of active TB cases involve people in their child bearing years who are employed. When a person is infectious, he or she must be isolated, thereby missing weeks or months of work.
With 15 cases of TB reported last year, imagine how 15 could jump to 30, then to hundreds if access to TB drugs was an issue. Fortunately, access to treatment is not an issue as long as funding for TB programming is sustained. In addition, Snohomish County has the effective and comprehensive Directly Observed Therapy (DOTS) program, instituted at the Snohomish Health District in 1993, making it possible to ensure TB medication is being taken daily. Without appropriate TB drugs, as well as resources to administer DOTS, one can easily comprehend why TB is ravaging African communities.
Thursday is World TB Day. This is not a day to just acknowledge that TB exists. It is a day to empathetically honor those who are impacted by this preventable and curable disease. However, we must also go beyond the empathy. We must act. We can act by collectively raising our voices to our leaders so that they truly understand the severity and complexity of TB in our world. Access to TB drugs in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions of the world dramatically hit with TB is pivotal to saving thousands of lives. Political as well as spiritual leaders have the opportunity to immediately assist in financing crucial TB treatment drugs as well as the infrastructure to effectively administer them to all those in dire need.
Let us put a face to TB. Let us put a face to those who suffer from TB. May Claudia’s story remind you of how truly tragic any TB death is and may you be inspired to act on behalf of those who are too ill to make their voices, and their stories, heard.
Teresa Rugg is the group leader of the non-profit, grassroots Snohomish County RESULTS group. The purpose of RESULTS is to create the political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty. For more information about Snohomish County RESULTS, contact Rugg at 360-862-9034 and visit www.RESULTS.org.