Forgotten Disease

How could tuberculosis have been so neglected, that we may face a potential epidemic of man-made super-bacteria in the foreseeable future? The adage “out of sight, out of mind” may describe one of the causes of our nonchalant approach towards this problem. The other reason may be that a cure has existed for over 50 years. Whatever the individual factors may be, it is the general lack of attention paid to tuberculosis – a disease we believed conquered decades ago –  that has allowed it to become an issue once again.

Firstly, tuberculosis mainly affects impoverished people, so there is little commercial basis for research and development investments. Therefore, ineffective methods of diagnosis with low sensitivity and the same inefficient drugs have been used to treat TB for several decades. For example, an Eli Lilly representative at the 2011 TB Drug Manufacturers’ Conference in Delhi said that research on TB drugs with Eli Lilly is really just a “passion project” and is mainly of social nature. Although funds have now been raised to support research for new diagnostics and new medicines of about 12 new drugs with shorter treatment times and other improved conditions, it will be several years until they finally become available for cost effective and widespread use – years in which millions of people will continue to die, tens of million of people will develop active TB and hundreds of million of people will be infected with the bacteria.

TB was once described as one of the most “unsexy” diseases for which popular support was hard to garner. Few people of influence such as celebrities or politicians actually care about a disease, which is so unlikely to affect them. For example, there are plenty of celebrities who speak out against AIDS, but only few, who have shown active support for TB control on a widespread scale such as retired Portuguese soccer star Luis Figo and RnB artist Craig David.

However, even among us common citizens the knowledge and interest about TB is far below the extent of attention the disease actually requires. Yet, the case of Gerry Elsdon, a celebrity of print media and TV in South Africa, and the fight against TB shows that the disease can hit anyone anytime. Therefore, in addition to raising funds for partner organizations we have set ourselves the goal also to enhance awareness about and interest in the disease domestically and in the developed world in general. Read more about the activities of our society in the next section.

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