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Tuberculosis is declining in the US but patterns of migration mean that it is a global problem.

World Tuberculosis Day

Theme: Community Health
Air Date: 4/14/06
Producer: Maeve Conran
Description: Among infectious diseases tuberculosis is the 2nd leading killer of adults in the world.  Easily treated and prevented, this disease has been ignored for too long by the world's governments.


Host Intro: March 24th was World Tuberculosis Day, organized by the World Health
Organization's Stop TB Partnership. Of all infectious diseases, TB, is the 2nd leading killer of adults in the world.  Though affecting mostly developing countries, patterns of migration mean that it can spread to wealthier nations.  Recent talks at a state and federal level of cutting services such as healthcare to undocumented immigrants has health officials worried about the spread of diseases like TB. KGNU?s Maeve Conran reports.

Groups Featured in this report include: Stop TB Partnership,

Full Text:

Often described as a blight on the poor, the high levels of TB in the world today are an international disgrace, so says Dr. Marcos Espinal, the executive Director of the World Health Organization?s Stop TB partnership:

Dr. Espinal:
Well it?s a curable disease and we still have 9 million new cases every year, 2 million deaths?it?s a disease that has a cure available, and should have been eliminated long ago.

Unlike diseases such as HIV and Aids, and even Bird Flu, Espinal says that Tuberculosis has been ignored by the world?s government?s for a variety of reasons.

Dr. Espinal: 10 seconds
Lack of political will, lack of funding, lack of government interest?it's a disease of the poor, its been neglected?it's not a sexy disease.

Although relatively few cases of TB are reported in the US, Colorado had only 111 last year, health officials warn that we must not become complacent about this highly infectious disease.

Bill Burman:
?We can keep track of the political situation in the world and what countries are in trouble by looking at who?s coming into our clinic.?

Bill Burman, is director of the infectious disease clinic at Denver Public Health.

Bill Burman: ?So now we have patients from Somalia, a place of profound unrest where social

More than 50% of all cases reported in Colorado last year occurred in people born outside the country. Although legal immigrants are usually tested for the disease, it?s a test, which does not guarantee detection of TB.  Meanwhile, the millions of undocumented immigrants are not tested at all, and when TB is untreated, it can spread through something as simple as a cough.  So, Dr. Burman says, any attempt to cut off access to health care to ANY immigrant, could potentially be catastrophic.

Bill Burman:
I think it would be a singularly bad decision for Tuberculosis. Once again Tuberculosis is a disease where treatment is prevention, to find and detect cases and treat them appropriately is to stop transmission to additional people, so the last thing you would want is to have something which discourages people who are at risk from the
disease from seeking care, such that they can be diagnosed and treatment, it would be a terrible decision.?

Tuberculosis, once diagnosed, is relatively simple and inexpensive to treat.  Once under control with proper medical care, it?s no longer contagious. 20-year-old Margaret Mitchell from Denver is not the typical face of a TB patient.  She was diagnosed with the disease in January, which she believes she contracted while volunteering in Kenya last year.  It was there that she witnessed first hand the devastation caused by diseases like TB and AIDS, which often go hand in hand.

Margaret Mitchell:
I can remember seeing a little boy, his body is imprinted in my mind?he was very ill and the doctor told me that he wouldn?t probably live through the night?he had AIDS and probably tuberculosis as well?it?s an incredible problem that is very difficult to get people to understand.

Although TB has dramatically impacted her, Margaret feels she is luckier than her friends in Africa.

Margaret Mitchell:
?just the fact that I?m able to get the drugs to probably save my life is amazing, and I?m really grateful for that, lots of people in Kenya, lots of my friends there don?t have that opportunity. I can?t imagine living day to day not knowing about your safety, not knowing if you?re going to have water?what you?re going to do with your sick child?it?s just like I said, something you can?t understand until you?ve seen it with your own eyes.

Access to adequate health care and drugs are the difference between life and death for Tuberculosis victims.  The World Health Organization says they plan to eliminate TB as a public health problem by 2015, but they warn, this can only be done with essential political commitment.  For KGNU this is Maeve Conran.