Jessica Kuehne, Health Advocacy Officer at RESULTS, presents some key facts about the scale of the TB epidemic in Europe and what RESULTS and partners are doing to help get rates down.
We talk a lot about how many people think TB is a disease of the past when in fact it still kills 1.3 million people every year. Yes, more than 90 percent of all the people who get sick with TB live in developing countries. But – Europe is not immune from the one disease that has killed more people than any other in history.
Here are a facts about TB in Europe that might surprise you. They are:
- TB is the top infectious disease killer in Europe. Of all deaths caused by communicable diseases (diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites etc.), more than 40 percent are still due to TB.
- Europe is a hot bed for drug-resistant TB. Although the European region only accounts for 13 percent of the world’s population, it makes up nearly a quarter of all drug-resistant TB cases.
- The European Union has some of the worst treatment outcomes for drug-resistant TB. Of all people who are diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB worldwide, only about half are able to successfully complete their treatment. In the EU this number is even lower – only one third of patients with multidrug-resistant TB successfully complete their treatment.
So the answer is yes, TB does still matter. And with drug resistance on the rise, TB in Europe REALLY matters.
Treatment for drug-resistant TB is tough – patients have to have daily injections at the start of treatment followed by two years of swallowing fists full of pills. On top of this come the side effects – vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, depression, suicidal thoughts and even deafness.
Want to know what it’s like to have to go through that treatment? Read Marina’s account of going through TB diagnosis and treatment in three different EU countries.
Marina said that during those two years, one of the things that kept her going was a quote by Martin Luther King who said:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
Marina said she tried to focus on whatever she could to take her forward.
TB is often forgotten in Europe. Even amongst the TB community, little attention is paid to a region where people think TB isn’t actually a problem or, when it comes to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, people don’t know very much about.
But it’s not all bleak news. Last week, the TB Europe Coalition brought together 24 TB advocates from 13 countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia to build a network of individuals raising the issue of TB and to work out ways of getting Governments to allocate more funding for TB in the region. RESULTS is supporting the coalition to build stronger ties in the region and find ways advocates can support each other and work together to respond to TB in Europe.
It was also encouraging to see that Public Health England, when welcoming the World Health Organisation’s new report on antimicrobial resistance, specifically identified TB as an area of antibiotic resistance we need to be paying attention to.
TB still kills an estimated 40,000 people in the European region every year, and the rise in drug resistance is nothing to be scoffed at. This is a disease we should be responding to with a global approach. And when I say global, that includes Europe, too.