At an event commemorating World TB Day on Tuesday at PATH, the organization’s TB Team Leader D’Arcy Richardson reminded the audience of some lesser-known facts about the human toll of tuberculosis throughout the world: TB created 9.7 million orphans in 2009 alone; TB kills more women worldwide than all other causes of maternal mortality combined; and half of all people with active TB who do not receive TB treatment will die.
Richardson outlined the work PATH does in TB through their funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). They work in a broad swath of countries to expand patient-centered care and improve care for TB/HIV co-infection. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) PATH is working to train members of the community to support TB patients through the course of their treatment. They are also working in the DRC to evaluate when and where to employ new TB technologies, including the GeneXpert rapid TB diagnostic, where they can have the greatest impact. In Tanzania, PATH works to train health care workers on expanding HIV and TB service integration.
But the real stars of PATH’s TB event were the African TB advocates who were there to paint a real picture of the challenges TB patients face in accessing quality health care, including TB screening and treatment. They told their stories through a series of effective dramatic skits that featured an exhausted pregnant woman living with HIV infection coughing her way through her HIV clinic appointment, only to be told to walk blocks to access TB services while being chided not to cough in her child’s face. The good news for TB patients in Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland, and Nigeria was the articulate and persistent encouragement of the advocates present.
The morning event culminated with the announcement of a new “Civil Society Declaration on Tuberculosis in Africa,” developed by the African TB activists during their stay in the U.S. Carol Nyirenda, a long-time TB and HIV advocate and a person living with HIV who has also been treated for TB, read the declaration, which calls for the formation of an Africa Coalition on TB (ACT!) to ensure universal access to high quality, rapid TB diagnosis, appropriate and respectful care and treatment, and effective new drugs and vaccines.
The audience members from the U.S. pledged to carry on their own advocacy in the U.S. to help create a world free of TB.