Following the Pentagon’s announcement about opening an African Command, public health officials are warning that US soldiers could be exposed to a new, lethal strain of tuberculosis. It’s called XDR-TB, or extremely drug resistant tuberculosis. It often results from poor treatment of common forms of TB, including the failure of patients to take all of their medication.
One official calls the disease “one of the most serious and virtually incurable health threats to US troops in Africa.” The African Command, known as AFRICOM, would focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, according to the Pentagon.
One group calling for action is “RESULTS,” a Washington-based, grassroots advocacy NGO. Spokesman Jove Oliver tells VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua why there’s growing concern about XDR-TB.
“XDR-TB is a very nasty epidemic that has broken out, mainly in southern Africa, but we fear elsewhere as well…so, the fear is not only extremely drug resistant TB, this XDR-TB, but also multi-drug resistant TB, is actually much more widespread than we’re able to tell now. So, with a large contingent of permanent US military personnel en route to Africa over the next year or year and a half, there are concerns that not only millions of Africans (will become) afflicted by this epidemic, but now our own US troops will be in harm’s way,” he says.
RESULTS and others are calling on Congress to approve $300 million in emergency spending to deal with prevention of the disease, which has been described as “Ebola with wings.”
Oliver says, “There are a number of threats that you can imagine as US troops go into the field, but many strains of this XDR-TB are resistant to the standard drugs we have to treat tuberculosis, meaning that it can be virtually incurable and if you are able to cure it, it’s very costly. So, we feel that an ounce of prevention now will be worth a pound of cure as our US troops go over to Africa.”
If the health care of US soldiers is good, why would they be exposed? Oliver says, “This is a disease that’s spread through the air. The risk factor for getting it is simply breathing.”