A Compassionate Approach to TB


This is a guest blog from STOP TB advocacy officer, based at RESULTS, David Bryden.

The best part of my job is meeting the courageous people who have had tuberculosis (TB) and are willing to come forward to educate the community about the disease. 

They want other patients to know they are not alone and that they can make it through the sometimes difficult treatment. They want the world to know the best response to TB is not panic or paranoia, but compassion and greater community awareness.
I recently attended a meeting of advocates to consider what to do about the serious shortage of TB medication in the United States. At the meeting, we took inspiration from a young Latina professional from Texas who recently recovered from multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and who is now fully cured.

Liliana went to seek help when she found she had a chronic cough, which a specialist found was due to TB, plus she was experiencing the night sweats common in cases of TB.  She had to be hospitalized for the first two months of her treatment, which lasted a year a half. This involved painful injections and some difficult side effects including nausea. Fortunately, she had the strong support of her family to get through the ordeal, and now she is back at her job.

To other patients finding themselves in the same predicament, she advises sticking to the treatment, staying strong and not to giving up hope.

TB is having a disproportionate impact among Latinos, who make up nearly a third of the roughly 10,000 cases of active TB cases in the US. It varies by region, but most of the TB cases in the US are among the foreign born, and most of these are people legally residing in the US.  The US had 98 cases of MDR TB in 2011.  About 11 million people in the US have a form of TB infection that is inactive and not contagious.

People with conditions that impact the immune system are more vulnerable to catching TB or their TB becoming active. For instance, a recent systematic review of 13 studies reported that diabetic patients had about a 3-fold increased risk of developing TB when compared to those without diabetes. People living with HIV are also vulnerable to TB.

TB is spread by coughing, not by shaking hands with someone with TB, sharing food, kissing etc. To become infected usually a person has to be close to someone with TB disease for a long period of time. TB is usually spread between family members, close friends, and people who work or live together. 

TB calls for a smart, compassionate approach in which communities at risk are familiar with the signs and symptoms and in which patients get the care and the community support they need to see the sometimes difficult treatment through to cure. The last thing we want to do is cut funding for TB programs, which protect the entire community.

I interviewed Lilliana about her story in this video: