Tuberculosis is Gaining on Us

Tuberculosis is Gaining on Us

“Forms of tuberculosis (TB) that cannot be treated with standard drugs are presenting at an alarming rate in the country

[INDIA], with an estimated 8,900 people newly infected every year.”

–  RADIO FREE ASIA 2013-08-22

“World TB Day, falling on March 24th each year, is designed to build public awareness that tuberculosis today remains an epidemic in much of the world, causing the deaths of nearly one-and-a-half million people each year, mostly in developing countries. It commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch astounded the scientific community by announcing that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus. At the time of Koch’s announcement in Berlin, TB was raging through Europe and the Americas, causing the death of one out of every seven people. Koch’s discovery opened the way towards diagnosing and curing TB.” (

Tuberculosis facts have remained the same, for the most part, since ancient times.

“The organism causing tuberculosis existed 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. It has been found in relics from ancient Egypt, India, and China. Among Egyptian mummies, spinal tuberculosis, known as Pott’s disease has been detected by archaeologists.

In the 18th century in Western Europe, tuberculosis reached its peak with a prevalence as high as 900 deaths per 100,000. Poorly ventilated and overcrowded housing, primitive sanitation, malnutrition and other risk factors led to the rise. The term White Plague emerged around this time.”  (

TB was also commonly called “consumption” at the turn of the last century because of the way the disease seemed to “consume” the individuals it affected.

The bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis is what causes Tuberculosis. It is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. Spread of tuberculosis is facilitated by several factors like overcrowding, living in close quarters like in orphanages, prisons etc. and presence of other medical problems.” (

Because of the ease in which TB is spread, tuberculosis is highly contagious. In the nineteenth century, in an effort to curtail the spread of this potentially deadly disease, the concept of keeping tuberculosis patients isolated in a sanatorium started. Initially started in Silelsia in 1859 by Hermann Brehmer the idea caught on. In 1884, Edward Livingston Trudeau started the first sanatorium in the United States. Infectious persons were isolated from society and treated with rest and improved nutrition.

Tuberculosis Treatment

“Medications are the cornerstone of tuberculosis treatment. But treating TB takes much longer than treating other types of bacterial infections. With tuberculosis, you must take antibiotics for at least six to nine months. The exact drugs and length of treatment depend on your age, overall health, possible drug resistance, the form of TB (latent or active) and the infection’s location in the body.” (

Therein lies a major obstacle to decreasing the severity of TB in its victims, as well as limiting its contagion from one person to another. A treatable and curable disease, many people either don’t have access to needed medication or they don’t take the medication properly. Consequently, each year, nearly two million people die unnecessarily from TB.

That’s not all. “Tuberculosis is growing more resistant to treatment worldwide, according to a study released in August 2012 in the journal The Lancet, a finding that suggests the potentially fatal disease is becoming more difficult and costly to treat.

Although it is curable, the treatment regimen requires patients dutifully to take multiple antibiotics daily for several months, and if there are any deviations from protocol or incomplete courses, drug resistance develops easily.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 5 percent of the cases of this disease are multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB. Worse, as additional antibiotics are being thrown at the disease, forms that are even more resistant have begun to emerge. First reported in 2006, cases of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) are resistant to drugs called fluoroquinolones, as well as to one of the three available intravenous drugs. While MDR-TB is difficult and costly to treat, XDR-TB is even harder.

It is a matter of life and death that world health leaders act immediately to stop the severity and spread of Tuberculosis’s threat. Otherwise, this disease and its deadly drug resistant mutations are sure to reach once again the epidemic proportions of the 18th century.

Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) is the current tuberculosis vaccine. It was first used in 1921, and is the only vaccine available today for protection against tuberculosis. It is most effective in protecting children from the disease. Unfortunately, its effectiveness is limited.

PCI has built a reputation for its unique approach to TB, which involves strengthening the overall system for TB prevention and control at local, state and national levels, and promoting a person-centered model. Through its SOLUCION TB program, PCI Mexico is working with Mexican public health agencies and other partners to reduce the number of people who die of TB and significantly increase the number of people who are fully cured. In collaboration with USAID and the Mexican Government, PCI’s TB and co-morbidities program has reached over 10 million individuals with prevention messages and has resulted in improved testing of TB in people with TB (from 50% to 91%), and higher testing of TB in individuals with HIV/AIDS from 20% to 81%.

Since 2006, PCI worked with the Ministry of Health in México to achieve important changes in TB prevention, treatment and cure. In 35 priority municipalities from 13 different states throughout the country, the public health system integrated a person-centered approach into TB prevention and care. This allows people to receive quality care from health workers who focus as much on individual needs as on ensuring treatment completion. PCI worked with the National TB program to strengthen their collaboration with the Diabetes and HIV/AIDS departments to successfully integrate screening and referrals for HIV/AIDS and Diabetes for those with TB, resulting in over a 70% increase in screening for both diseases. Data shows how weakened immune systems leave individuals with one disease vulnerable to multiple diseases like TB, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.

Nonetheless, According to the WHO, one out of every three individuals in the world is infected with the TB bacteria. Globally, an estimated 8.7 million new cases of TB were reported in 2011, and in 2010, 1.4 million died from the disease. The growing problem of multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains of the disease which are more difficult to treat and cost 100 times more (on average) to treat, is putting added pressure into public health systems.

Incredible and dedicated work is happening all over the world in an effort to reduce the numbers of those infected with Tuberculosis. Please visit our website – – to see how you, too, can affect positive change in the health and lives of others.