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TB and the Poor: Time to Smooth out Global Inequalities.

By 3 November 2014No Comments

During his speech at the Union Conference’s TB Symposium, the Minister of Health of India rightly noted that TB is a by-product of poverty “It’s not just that TB is in the air, it’s related to poverty, malnutrition, and to health systems which simply cannot cope with basic challenges”.[1]   This quote illustrates that TB is part of a more complex web of societal factors, which must be addressed in a broader development framework.

Civil society will be relieved to hear that the MOH of India has committed to making TB a political priority and the responsibility of both politicians and medical administrators. As India still harbours the highest number of missed TB cases, the decision to implement local TB tracking systems will most definitely be welcomed. Furthermore, a foreseen ban which is to prevent the sale of anti-tuberculosis medicine at markets, should push patients to seek out professional medical help and consequently raise treatment rates.

While it appears that serious efforts are being made towards reducing India’s TB burden, a glance at global statistics gives further reason for concern. Even if it was noted today that recent data on TB has increased both in quantity and quality, cases continue to be underreported due to weak health systems. This fact gives further weight to the argument that universal health care should be available for all. And while we should remain positive about dropping mortality, prevalence and incidence rates, TB continues to be concentrated in 10 countries, which bear the international TB brunt and testify to global health inequalities.

In fact, developing countries score worse across the board: not only are their TB rates higher, an African mother is 20 times more likely to die than her European counterpart. It is thus that we speak of low incidence in the EU where infection rates lie at 100 per every million. However, in high incidence countries such as South Africa current infection rates lie around 860 per 100,000.[2] Nevertheless, the European region still faces numerous problems. Much more work needs to be done in the EU to ensure that health systems and countries are adequately addressing the MDR-TB epidemic. These disparities can be smoothed out by pushing for health care for all and breaking the cycle between poverty and TB. Worldwide, it takes the combined efforts of civil society, governments and patients to achieve this.

[1] Minister of Health of India , Union Conference