Not many things last 6,000 years. Not even the pyramids, the Great Wall, nor Stonehenge are that old. Unfortunately, tuberculosis, a disease that affects the lungs and other organs, has plagued mankind for six millennia and still presents serious risks to thousands of communities and millions of people around the world.
Today, March 24th, is World TB Day, and it's important now more than ever to call attention to the longstanding and still very much imminent health crisis that TB poses. It results in more deaths worldwide per year than any other infectious disease. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that as much as one-third of the global population carries the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. While TB potentially threatens us all, it impacts developing countries at a rate far higher than others. Fewer resources and less access to medical care make TB a far more formidable foe in these areas.
The size and scope of TB's impact may shock you, but thanks to the dedication and talent of today's medical community, we've made strides in the treatment and prevention of this deadly disease. For example, 500 years ago, people thought that a touch from a king could cure the disease. And 100 years ago, the most popular remedy was "plombage," or the intentional collapsing of a lung in the hopes of a quicker recovery.
Thankfully, we've come quite a long way in a relatively short time. Biologists discovered and developed the first antibiotic for TB in the 1940s, and since then, doctors and researchers have worked hard to limit and reduce tuberculosis' damage.
Today, vaccines for prevention and antibiotics for treatment save lives and stem the progression of this deadly disease. Since 1990, prevalence of TB has dropped 41% and tuberculosis-related deaths have also decreased by 45%. As recently as 2013, successful treatment rates in new cases increased to 86%. While these statistics are encouraging, more than 1.5 million people still die every year - making TB the world's leading killer along with HIV.
World TB Day is an opportunity to note the significant strides we've made toward containing TB and the work left to be done. Armed with cutting-edge therapies and nuanced techniques, the global health care community is finding new ways to contain, combat and eradicate the disease. In this era of lifesaving medicine, who knows what improvements we could make 10 or 20 years from now?
To learn more about tuberculosis and find World TB Day resources, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website and follow along online with the hashtags #WorldTBDay and #StopTB.