by Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Tuberculosis kills 15 people every hour. Between now and 2015, more than 10 million people will die from a disease that is both preventable and curable.
As many as 50 million will develop active TB, and over 2 million cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)will emerge for want of proper care.
Right now, just 12 per cent of the estimated 440,000 people with MDR-TB get the expensive, long-term treatment they need. This means that almost 400,000 people suffer needlessly, and imperil others.
And the problem is compounded by the rising incidence of co-infection with HIV – TB accounts for one in five deaths among people living with HIV.
In an era when detecting and treating TB is easier and cheaper than ever before, why does this state of affairs exist?
Because TB is overwhelmingly a disease of the poor.
We want to banish TB to the history books, but this can only be achieved with a massive wake-up call to those with the power to invest in measures that will stop TB.
Equitable and universal access to treatment, the right drugs, well-equipped laboratories are all vital. But what will make the most difference is a change of approach at community level. The stigma of TB must be addressed and treatment must be made not only available, but easy.
That is why Red Cross Red Crescent must be included in the solution.
Last year alone, more than 5 million community members were mobilized in TB-endemic countries through more than 80,000 active Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers. They helped identify vulnerable groups, provided health education and monitored patients to ensure that the correct drugs are taken, visiting them ve or six times a week if needed.
These volunteers live and work alongside the very people they help – surely this active community mobilization is the best defence against TB.
On World TB day, as secretary general of the world’s largest humanitarian organization, I call for universal access to affordable and effective diagnostics, treatment and care. On behalf of our 186 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, I call for better disease detection. And on behalf of our 20 million active volunteers, I call for radical solutions to alleviate the conditions in which TB thrives. This means combating poverty, malnutrition, gender inequalities, alcohol abuse, poor housing and education, and indoor pollution.
Finally, on behalf of the thousands of TB patients that we assist, I call for health professionals, civil servants, and communities to treat people living with TB, or at risk of becoming infected, with dignity and respect.