Health organizations say tuberculosis causes the death of more people living with HIV than any other disease. Figures released by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS show an estimated 13% of AIDS deaths worldwide from TB. Many of these deaths occur in underdeveloped countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Health Organization says sub-Saharan Africa continues to see a rise in HIV/TB deaths. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He says the combination of HIV and TB, known as a co-infection, creates a big challenge. "If you are co-infected with HIV…there is a much higher chance for reactivating your latent TB…" He says
The immune systems of those infected with HIV are so depressed that it's very difficult for the body to fight TB. Dr. Fauci warns that in developing countries the full scope of the effects of AIDS/TB is still unknown.
"It is probably the tip of the iceberg…. We are going to see more numbers of people being co-infected by TB and HIV.... " He says
In Cape Town, South Africa, Clarence Rodrick is an example of the importance of catching TB early. He has been living with HIV for over ten years, and because of his job as an AIDS counselor, he comes into contact with TB patients every day. He was fortunate to know about the dangers of TB when he contracted it. He sought immediate medical attention. "I was coughing and I was perspiring…. I went to my doctor. And I have not contracted TB ever since." He says
Dr. Fauci says that most health systems underestimated the scope and challenge that TB posed. Even developed countries thought they had the disease under control. He that "TB has been overlooked…not only in developing nations…[but also] right here in the United States because TB figures were going down each year…. So we became lax about the public health measures, the diagnostics."
He warns that the fight against tuberculosis is far from being won because of HIV and because of extra drug resistant TB, known as XDR-TB. " In some respects we are making progress, but in others we are getting a setback by the emergence of XDR-TB. We have been successful more in developed countries…." He says
Dr. David Olson works with the TB program of Doctors Without Borders. He warns that the more HIV/TB co-infections, the greater the chances of spreading it to other members of the community.
" It is the main cause of death in HIV cases in sub-Saharan Africa. And the more the infectious cases you have, the greater chances of spreading to other individuals without HIV." He says
Rodrick says that many people in rural South Africa who live with HIVhave not been educated about TB. This puts them at a great risk of contracting the disease. His organization, the Action Support Network, tries to educate HIV-positive people about TB. He recalls how lucky he was to have recognized TB when he got it. " Basically for me it was in the beginning stages…but many people don't have the knowledge about TB." He says.
For many people like Rodrick, there is hope because for the past six years,there has been an increased commitment and political will to fight the world's oldest pandemic.