It used to be called consumption - a disease that slowly consumed its victims until inevitable death. Today, a vaccine is available and potent drug cocktails have been developed to treat tuberculosis, but the war against the killer disease has not yet been won. The health problem has attracted the attention even of some of the world’s richest individuals. With 8.8 million people around the world being afflicted with tuberculosis in 2010 and about 1.4 million dying, billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda recently donated $220 million for research on TB treatment.
In the Philippines, there has been some progress in efforts to fight TB since the disease killed Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon in 1944. But the disease remains one of the top killers in the country. In recent years, health experts have expressed alarm over an increase in the number of children suffering from the contagious lung disease. Of some 26,000 TB cases screened in the country in 2010, 14,527 were children.
To reduce the risk of infection among children, health experts want a stronger campaign to treat TB among adults. This is not as simple as it seems. Even if properly diagnosed, adult TB patients may be unable to seek treatment. The health experts pointed out that the disease is also a social problem, being most prevalent among the impoverished who lack proper nutrition and sanitation facilities. Medication, which typically lasts six months, can cost about P2,000 a month for a child. Most of the world’s TB victims are in the developing world.
A vaccine for tuberculosis has been available since 1921 and can be administered orally to children. Bacille Calmette Guerin or BCG was originally isolated from a TB-afflicted cow. The vaccine contains a weakened strain of the TB-causing Mycobacterium bovis. The government must invest in providing access to the vaccine for the poor, especially children.