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Ending the TB Epidemic

Tuberculosis: Europe’s Ticking Time Bomb

Posted by ACTION Guest on Mar 20, 2013  | 

For World TB Day, the TB Europe Coalition (TBEC) has issued a statement calling on the European Commission to increase public health funding to fight the resurgence of tuberculosis (TB) in Europe and eradicate its deadly strains.

According to TBEC, TB is Europe's ticking time bomb. The World Health Organisation reported an estimated 76,000 cases of multi-drug resistant TB in the WHO European Region in 2011, accounting for a quarter of the global TB burden. Controlling and treating TB costs European Union member states €15 million every week and €750 million every year.

The numbers seem to speak for themselves, but they also don't communicate the very real human impact of this disease on the residents of Europe.

Bruce Warwick, a health advocacy officer with RESULTS UK interviewed Oxana Rucisineanu, a former TB patient from Moldova on her personal experience with multi drug-resistant TB.

Before being diagnosed Oxana explains she was leading what most of us what refer to as a standard life. Between working and socializing Oxana began to suspect something was wrong when she began to lose weight and was persistently bothered by a pain in her chest. Unfortunately for Oxana it was confirmed she has TB – a diagnosis she described as being “one of the most painful things”.

Stigma remains a substantial issue for TB patients. In a story that is all too commonly heard, the “shame” that Oxana felt meant it took her months to accept her diagnosis and move on. In Moldova, as is the case in many social settings, Oxana explains that the perception of TB is one that makes it incredibly difficult to advocate for and be associated with. It is considered an illness of “the homeless, alcoholics, drug users and former prisoners”. As a result, “there are very few former patients who would like to stay involved in TB advocacy” instead choosing to “forget about this nightmare”.

To exacerbate the social stigma, more and more people are being diagnosed with MDR-TB. MDR-TB emerges as a result of improper treatment, something all too common given that many national governments either lack the resources or political will to tackle TB appropriately. 

I am told that the physical consequences of taking MDR-TB drugs is virtually impossible to comprehend it is so bad. Indeed, when I ask Oxana about her experience with MDR-TB drugs she states that “the only thing I would like to say is that I would never wish that experience on my greatest enemy!”. Side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation -- to name just a few.

Drug-resistance is an alarming problem. Not only are the drugs incredibly toxic for patients, but treatment also costs over a hundred times the amount compared to treatment of standard TB. Failure to act now would mean we face a future of unparalleled costs in tackling TB as well as millions more suffering through the stigma, debilitating side effects and the loss of many more lives. I ask Oxana if she would like any final words. She urges the world not to forget that TB is more than just a medical issue. It is also social and economic and we must ensure that in order to consolidate the results of successful treatment there must be ongoing support to guarantee ex-patients a decent, social and secure life.

You can watch Oxana explain the importance of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in this video from the Here I Am Campaign

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