Posted by: E. Jed Barton, Mission Director, U.S. Agency for International Development
Tuberculosis (TB) has plagued mankind for millennia. Today it remains a scourge, affecting millions in Ukraine and around the world. What many still don’t realize is that TB is curable with treatment – meaning this terrible disease can be stopped.
Just ask Olesia, a 27-year-old professional woman residing in Kyiv. Her TB was originally diagnosed as a cold. But a few months later, in the fall of 2011 after a visit to the Kyiv TB Hospital, she was told she actually had TB. She spent two months there receiving the World Health Organization -recommended “Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course” (DOTS) treatment. After five additional months in outpatient treatment and a family member monitoring to make sure she stayed on her treatment regiment, she was cured and returned to work a few weeks later.
TB treatment is becoming more effective every year and the number of people getting sick is dropping. Still, in 2011, 8.7 million people were diagnosed with TB and 1.4 million died worldwide. For this reason, TB is a top-priority for governments, donors, the private sector and faith- and community-based groups all over the world.
In Ukraine, approximately 40,000 TB cases are registered annually and every year 7,500 Ukrainians die from TB. More disconcerting, 16 percent of the newly detected TB cases and 44 percent of previously-treated TB cases are now being found to be resistant to a number of standard TB medications. There are also documented cases of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis for which treatment options are very limited and less effective.
Since 2001, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided technical assistance to the Government of Ukraine to combat the TB epidemic. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, USAID first piloted and then rolled-out the innovative DOTS treatment to the regions of Ukraine with the highest TB burden.
During the last four years, Ukraine has officially reported stabilization and a slight decrease of TB incidences and death rates. However, an increase in drug resistant forms of TB and the growing rate of TB/HIV co-infection demonstrate that there is a dire need to take additional action to finally suppress the TB epidemic.
USAID continues to work with the Government of Ukraine to stymie this persistent and stubborn disease. The USAID TB program focuses on improving adherence to appropriate TB treatment and TB treatment outcomes, effectively managing multi-drug resistant cases, creating an effective response to the growing rates of TB-HIV co-infection, and strengthening pharmaceutical systems. The TB program also aims to strengthen the ability to manage TB drug procurement, stock-keeping and distribution to ensure that TB drugs are received in accordance with procedures approved by the World Health Organization.
On World TB Day, observed each year on March 24, the United States reaffirms its commitment to working with partners to fight this deadly disease. We support programs that save lives and foster a healthier and more secure world, focusing our efforts in countries where the burden of the disease is highest. As the largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, the U.S. Government has made this fight a priority. In the past year, millions of lives around the world were saved and tens of millions of additional cases of TB were averted through increased disease surveillance, early TB detection and treatment.
We at USAID know from past experience that continued vigilance is essential to maintaining the gains made and reaching our goals. It is also important that we continue to work closely with the Government of Ukraine and its Ministry of Health to coordinate our efforts at controlling the TB epidemic here.
Working with Ukrainians and the wider global health community, we can harness science, technology and innovation to substantively reduce the prevalence of TB and leave an unparalleled legacy in global health. Our ultimate goal is to give many more people like Olesia a chance at a healthy future.