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18.03.2008 Health

'I am stopping TB'


Mercy Boampong, a 27-year-old female teacher was nearly forced to abandon her career when members of the community in which she stayed got to know that she was suffering from tuberculosis (TB).

Although Mercy had started treatment which made her incapable of infecting anyone with the disease, those who knew she had it avoided her completely. She could neither fetch water from the public stand pipe nor go to the market. The painful aspect of the issue was the fact that even members of her church refused to share the same pew with her and when they did, they made sure they sat far from her.

Finally, she asked for transfer to another station outside the region where she believed, she could have the peace of mind to do what she knew best, teaching.

What is tuberculosis (TB)?

At a seminar to equip some health personnel to embark on public education on TB as part of the World TB Day celebration, the Programme Manager of the National TB Control Programme, Dr Frank Bonsu, defined TB as a bacterial disease usually affecting the lungs (pulmonary TB).

Other parts of the body can also be affected, for example lymph nodes, kidneys, bones, joints, among other parts which are known as extrapulmonary TB.

World TB Day

History has it that on March 24, 1882, Dr Robert Koch announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (TB). During this time, TB killed one out of every seven people living in the United States and Europe. Dr Koch's discovery was the most important step toward the control and elimination of this deadly disease.

In 1982, a century after Dr Koch's announcement, the first World TB Day was sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD).

The event which had continued till today was intended to educate the public on the devastating health and economic consequences of TB, its effect on developing countries, and its continued tragic impact on global health.

Today, World TB Day is commemorated across the globe with activities as diverse as the locations in which they are held. But more can be done to raise awareness about the effects of TB. Among infectious diseases, TB remains the second leading killer of adults in the world, with more than two million TB related deaths each year.

Until TB is controlled, World TB Day will not be just a celebration but a valuable opportunity to educate the public about the devastation TB can bring and how it can be stopped.

This year's celebration has the theme,"I am Stopping TB" which should be seen as more than a slogan. It is the start of a two-year campaign that belongs to people everywhere who are doing their part to Stop TB.
This year's World TB Day is about celebrating the lives and stories of people affected by TB.

Women, men and children who have taken TB treatment; nurses; doctors; researchers; community workers and anyone who has contributed towards the global fight against TB.

In Ghana, this year's commemoration has been shifted from the March 24, to March 18, 2008 because March 24, is Easter Monday which is a public holiday. The event is scheduled to take place at the Jubilee Park in Wa in the Upper West Region.

As part of the programme, the National Planning Committee, in conjunction with the Upper West Regional Directorate and the National TB Control Programme had planned series of activities to mobilise health workers, civil society groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the media and the government to take action as groups and individuals to address issues militating against the control, care and prevention of the disease in Ghana.

At the seminar held in Accra, Dr Bonsu of the National TB Control Programme reiterated that TB could affect anyone of any age but people with weakened immune systems were at increased risk.

He pointed out that TB was spread through the air when a person with untreated pulmonary TB coughs or sneezes. Also, prolonged exposure to a person with untreated TB could usually cause an infection.

What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?

According to Dr Bonsu, the symptoms of TB include fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and a persistent cough for more than two weeks, among other symptoms. Some people, according to him, may not have obvious symptoms and also most people infected with the germ that causes TB never develop active TB. That condition, Dr Bonsu said, was referred to as latent TB infection.

An individual with TB disease may remain contagious until he or she has been on appropriate treatment for about six months. However, a person with latent TB infection, but not the disease, cannot spread the infection to others, since there are no TB germs in his or her sputum.

All the same, it is important that people with latent TB infection are evaluated for a course of preventive therapy, which usually includes taking anti-tuberculosis medication for six months. People with active TB disease must complete a course of treatment for six months or more.

Initial treatment according to health personnel, include at least four anti-TB drugs, and the medications might be altered based on laboratorv test results. The exact medication plan, they pointed out, must be determined by a physician.

Just like many WHO member countries, Ghana is currently using Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) programmes which are recommended for all TB patients to help them complete their therapy and fully recover. Under DOT, health personnel supervise treatment of patients so that they do not stop treatment mid-way.

TB is a dangerous disease. In addition to spreading the disease to others, an untreated person may become severely ill or die.

The most important way to stop the spread of tuberculosis is for patients to cover the mouth and nose when coughing, and to take all the TB medicine exactly as prescribed by the physician in order to be cured and stop its spread.

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