Tuberculosis is the world’s deadliest curable, infectious disease. According to the World Health Organization TB report, there were 8.9 million new TB cases in 2003. Over 1.7 million people die of the ailment, 90 percent of them in developing countries. Africa has the highest incidence of TB with 2.8 million cases in 2003, but even in the Americas and Europe there are 370 thousand and 439 thousand cases respectively. It remains one of three major epidemics in the world today (HIV/AIDS and malaria making up the other two).
Today, the World Health Organization revised its policy of treating the disease (“WHO Announces New Global TB Strategy” – The Houston Chronicle). They aim to focus more on individuals with TB and HIV/AIDS as well as those with a multi-drug resistant form of TB (MDR TB). Paul Farmer, who I wrote about on March 14th, advocates this strategy.
Fighting TB is one of the most effective means by which the developed world can help less developed countries. In addition to the health benefits which will accrue to the individuals effected, we will expect these same individuals to lead more productive lives and hopefully lead their respective countries out of poverty. For those who are more concerned about U.S. tax dollars being spent on Americans, fighting TB in the developing world may still be cost effective. By treating those residing in the ‘third world,’ the new WHO strategy aims to prevent the possible spread of the drug resistant form of TB into the developed world. ‘Mountains beyond Mountains (pp. 141)’ details how an MDR TB outbreak in New York City in the late 1980s cost various American agencies approximately $1 billion to staunch.
If you are interested in donating money towards the fight against TB, Partners in Health and ‘The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria‘ are great organizations.