By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFCR) warned Thursday, March 24, that millions of people will die of tuberculosis, unless the international community intervenes.
The world’s largest humanitarian and development network made the announcement while presenting new findings in Budapest to mark the annual World Tuberculosis Day, aimed at raising public awareness about the disease.
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In its latest report, “Towards a Tuberculosis-Free World,” the IFRC predicts that by 2015 more than 10 million people could die from an illness that experts say is preventable and curable.
The report says over 80 percent of tuberculosis cases occur in Africa and Asia, with India and China alone accounting for a third of people suffering from the disease.
EASTERN EUROPE CONCERNS
Dr. Sonja Tanevska, Health and Care Coordinator of the IFRC Europe Zone, told BosNewsLife there is also concern about Eastern Europe and the Central Asian nations of the former Soviet Union. “Eastern Europe is unfortunately effected by the form of tuberculosis that is very difficult to treat, which is multi-drug resistant tuberculosis,” she explained. “This is why Eastern Europe is very specific and it is very important for [the] fight [against] tuberculosis.”
Dr. Tanevska said part of the problem is that many people diagnosed with tuberculosis in these former Communist nations do not complete their treatment because of the cost, which can range from $100 to $7,500.
She estimates that each year, hundreds of thousands of people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are infected with tuberculosis and that seven people in the region die of the illness every hour. Yet, the medical doctor added that IFRC volunteers have been able to save the lives of thousands.
“Our report has a story from Turkmenistan. One of our volunteers in our program, she had tuberculosis twice in her life — once when she was a child and she was cured and a second time she got tuberculosis when she was 33 [years old],” Dr. Tenevska recalled.
“She was devastated. And only Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers helped her to go through this difficult period. They gave her psychological support and in many ways helped the family in general to go through this difficult time. She is now one of the volunteers of Turkmenistan Red Crescent,” Dr. Tanevska said.
MORE FUNDING NEEDED
The IFRC wants to raise $250 million to extend treatment and support to as many as 1.7 million tuberculosis sufferers around the world by 2015.
IFRC’s spokesperson in Budapest, Joe Lowry, said the organization also aims to work closely with local communities to detect the disease early among the homeless and others needing assistance. “There the nurse could hear a cough and say, ‘You need to be tested,'” he told BosNewsLife.
However, “It’s a treatable disease, absolutely. It’s not a death sentence,” Lowry stressed. “It’s something that can be cured. It takes time. With the right medication, people can be back on their feet and back at work within months.”
One in three people worldwide is thought to be infected with tuberculosis, although most will never become ill with the disease.
But with urban centers expected to swell to almost five billion people within the next two decades, the IFRC says governments will need to do more to help prevent cities from becoming a hotbed for tuberculosis transmission.
The IFRC estimates that some $21 billion is needed from donor countries to tackle the pandemic during the next four years.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals in especially (former) Communist nations and other autocratic ruled countries. Parts of this BosNewsLife News story also airs via the Voice of America (VOA) network).