Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious bacterial disease that most commonly affects the lungs. Like the common cold, it is spread through the air from the throat and lungs of infected people. If left untreated, an infected person can spread TB to 10 to 15 people every year, though not all will become sick. TB is a treatable and curable disease.
People most at risk:
Most healthy people exposed to TB will be able to fight off the bacteria, but those with weakened immune systems, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS, are very susceptible to falling ill to TB. TB is among the top five causes of death among women between the ages of 15 to 44, while childhood TB is often overlooked and difficult to diagnosis and treat. In 2013, approximately half a million children (age 0-14) fell ill with TB and 80,000 children (HIV negative) died from TB. Further, roughly 95% of TB deaths occur in developing countries.
TB is most commonly treated through an uninterrupted course of antibiotics, which typically lasts six to eight months. The TB death rate has dropped 45% between 1990 and 2013, and around 37 million TB patients have been successfully treated since 2000. However, the emergence of multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) has complicated treatment for many. MDR-TB does not respond to standard treatments and often requires extensive chemotherapy as well as costly, second-line TB drugs. In 2013, an estimated 480,000 people developed MDR-TB.
More than two billion people - or one-third of the world’s population - are infected with the germs that cause TB. The symptoms of active TB, which most commonly affects the lungs, are coughing, sometimes with blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever, and night-sweats. One out of every ten of those people will become sick with active TB in his or her lifetime. If left untreated, those with active TB can infect 10 to 15 people every year, as it is easily transmitted through air when an infected person talks, coughs, sneezes, or spits.
HIV/AIDS has been a critical factor in the increase of TB, as those who are HIV-positive are less able to fight off TB germs than someone with a healthy immune system. TB continues to be the leading cause of death among people living with HIV/ AIDS. In 2013, 9 million people fell ill with TB and 1.5 million died from it.
About 80% of reported TB cases occurred in 22 countries in 2012. Nearly 56% of new TB cases occurred in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Region in 2013. The greatest rate of new cases per capita was in Africa. However, TB occurs in every part of the world—no country has ever eliminated this disease.
Information from World Health Organization
Making sure that high quality medical services are available to the poor and most vulnerable helps ensure that those living with active TB are diagnosed and receive treatment. Treating and educating those with TB is critical to reducing the spread of the disease, particularly for those living with HIV/AIDS, as they are highly susceptible to infection, even death, as a result of TB.
In some countries where TB is common, infants are often vaccinated with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin because it can prevent severe TB in children. However, this vaccine is not recommended for general use in countries where TB is less common, such as the United States, because it is not as effective in preventing TB in adults. Research is currently underway for a more effective TB vaccine.
International Medical Corps supports national TB programs by referring patients with suspected or confirmed TB to national lab services, treatment programs and follow-up care. We also integrate TB diagnosis and treatment services into the primary and secondary health care facilities that we support based on national Ministry of Health guidelines.
International Medical Corps has been supporting TB clinics and educating patients in urban shantytowns such as Nairobi’s Kibera slum and 13 other districts since 2005.
We also implemented a program between 2010 and 2011 to expand TB screening and treatment services in the Coast Province of Kenya, which contributed to the diagnosis of 3,121 positive cases in five districts.
International Medical Corps ran vaccination campaigns against TB in recent years for preventing the disease. We also supported the Ministries of Health in the North Caucasus expanding local capacity to care for those who were already ill.
For 30 years, a significant number of International Medical Corps’ responses have included technical assistance for the treatment and control of epidemic diseases. We work to help vulnerable communities prevent and respond to infectious diseases that have the potential to cross borders and become acute public health risks including: