Tuesday, the United Nations is hosting a meeting on the growing number of TB and HIV/AIDS co-infections. It’s estimated there are 14 million people afflicted by both diseases worldwide. Health officials say it’s a deadly combination.
The UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS is meant to draw attention to the close and often deadly relationship between tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. It’s a situation made worse of late by the emergence of stronger strains of TB – the multi-drug resistant and extensively drug resistant varieties. As a result, health experts say people who’ve managed to live with HIV for many years are now dying quickly from TB, a disease for which there’s been a cure for the last 50 years.
One of those who learned first-hand about the double threat is Lucy Chesire, a TB program officer with the Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium. She discovered she was HIV positive in 1992 and became infected with TB eight years later.
“It was the most horrendous experience I’d ever had to go through. Because one: I had extra-pulmonary TB, which meant this was TB outside the lung. So I had TB of the lymph nodes and TB of the knee. And unfortunately because of delayed diagnosis I had to undergo three surgeries to be able to sort the problem out and to be able to detect what the real problem was. So there I was staying in the hospital for a period of seven months and then finally starting my anti-retroviral therapy and at the same time going on TB medication,” she says.
Chesire says that as a person living with HIV/AIDS she is 50 times more vulnerable to developing TB. Millions of people around the world have the latent form of tuberculosis.
“When the immune system gets weak, it means that the latent TB develops into active TB and you start presenting the signs and symptoms. And whether you’re cured of TB the chances are much, much higher for a recurrence over the years,” she says.
Those symptoms include persistent coughing, weight loss, night sweats and loss of appetite. Chesire, who’s both a patient and an activist, says living one life with two diseases is a growing problem.
“When you look at the world, what’s going on is that we’re having about 14 million co-infections around the world. And for us to be able to provide care and support for all those who are co-infected it actually requires about 19 billion (dollars) by 2015. So, you actually see that is not little money you’re talking about,” she says.
She says a dual approach is needed whereby HIV/AIDS patients are regularly tested for TB and TB patients are regularly tested for HIV, the AIDS virus. She if the patients test positive, then appropriate treatment should be provided.