At that time, TB killed one out of seven people living in the United States and Europe. Today, TB is responsible for nearly 2 million deaths each year, the second leading cause of adult mortality through infectious disease. New virulent strains (such as multi-drug resistant tuberculosis or MDR-TB) are challenging health services everywhere. World TB Day is therefore held not only to encourage efforts in the fight against the disease, but also to promote innovation in care and research.
The theme of this year’s Day is ‘On the move against TB - Transforming the fight towards elimination’. This theme reflects a renewed momentum in countries across the world to tackle TB with a greater intensity and seriousness of purpose. A large amount of funding for developing countries comes from the Global Fund, a partnership of public and private organizations set up to attract and disburse resources for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. Expected to provide over 80 per cent of all international investments in TB in 2011, the Global Fund enables individual countries to strengthen their health systems, by for example making improvements to infrastructure and training, so that services can be scaled up.
One country which has benefited in this way is Georgia, where help from the Fund has allowed the country to start treatments for MDR-TB. The head of the state TB hospital in the spa town of Abastumani is Dr Tariel Endeladze. Dr Endeladze reports that back in 1985, when he was appointed head of the hospital, there was no regular supply of drugs to treat difficult cases of TB. Now, MDR-TB treatment is available to anyone in Georgia who needs it.
As in many of the former Soviet countries, Georgia has suffered a surge in TB cases. This is partly the result of the economic crises during the 1990s and also because of the mass movement of people and refugees following the recent armed conflict. On the World Health Organization’s list of countries, Georgia currently ranks around 15 as one of the world’s most burdened countries for cases of MDR-TB. The disease can be transmitted directly from person to person, so it is vital that MDR-TB is diagnosed quickly and patients then complete a full course of drugs to treat it effectively. The hospital at Abastumani currently has over 80 patients in its two MDR-TB wards and over the country as a whole, a thousand people are receiving treatment. Dr Endeladze has been involved in work against TB for much of his career, but his enthusiasm for the task continues. “This is my life,” he says, and adds that having worked with TB during “the hard times, I would not want to be doing anything else now that we are in far better times.”