When my husband was six, he tested positive for tuberculosis (TB) and had to take pills every day for nearly a year. Unlike many children with TB, his story ended happily: he was diagnosed and treated (and grew up to marry the love of his life!).
He was fortunate to have access to doctors and the right medicine. For him, even after a positive TB test later in life during Army basic training, TB became a distant memory. But for millions of people around the world, including families I have met from South Africa to the Philippines, TB remains a disruptive, devastating reality.
TB is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide, above HIV/AIDS, according to WHO. In 2016, an estimated 1.7 million people died from TB. Some 10.4 million people became ill with the disease, about 1 million of them children, just like my husband so many years ago. More than half of all TB cases are concentrated in India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, and Pakistan. People with HIV are especially vulnerable. While there has been some progress against this highly contagious illness, it is simply not moving fast enough.
That is why this year, World TB Day on March 24 is more important than ever.
The day is a chance to bring global attention to a disease that is often overlooked but affects so many. Some forms of tuberculosis don’t respond to traditional drug therapies, and many people are infected with the disease without realizing it, making others sick.
The good news is that children and adults with TB can be treated. Most deaths can be prevented by early diagnosis and treatment; 53 million lives have been saved from TB between 2000 and 2016. The WHO’s End TB Strategy seeks to cut TB deaths by 90% by 2035, so no family has to suffer the consequences of this terrible illness.
This year is critical in the global fight against TB. For the first time, world leaders will come together at a historic United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting to discuss their commitment to end TB. With leadership from the highest levels, the world can better protect high-risk populations across borders and amass the billions needed to develop and provide life-saving treatment to all those who need it. In 2016, just 13% of eligible children received preventative treatment for TB, according to WHO. We can do better.
Call on your leaders to join the High-Level Meeting and commit to ending the TB epidemic. Give if you can. We can make TB history, so every child can grow up like my husband was able to: healthy and strong.