WORLD AIDS DAY: Want to get to zero? Deal with TB!
A giant condom will be 'wrapped' around the Dutch Munt Tower in Amsterdam this week. It's probably one of the more striking activities that will mark World AIDS Day. Meetings, film-viewings, theatre plays, articles, brochures and many other happenings will call upon people to join the fight against AIDS. To effectively fight AIDS though, we need to also fight tuberculosis. 'Getting to zero' is this year's theme for World AIDS Day.
Getting to zero, backed by a United Nations campaign that will run until 2015, means zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths; a bold and important aspiration. However, to get to zero AIDS-related deaths, we need to realise that one out of every four people living with HIV will die of tuberculosis. Worldwide, TB is the third most important killer of women, the second deadliest infectious disease and the leading cause of death among people with HIV-infection.
HIV and TB are so deeply connected that they are often described as a 'dual epidemic'. Each disease speeds up the progress of the other; HIV infection is the strongest risk factor for turning latent tuberculosis into active disease, while TB-bacteria accelerate the progress of HIV infection in the patient. Getting to zero AIDS-related death means having to deal with tuberculosis too.
People living with HIV need to be often and properly screened for tuberculosis. They need to receive preventative treatment where necessary and they need to be treated fast and effectively in case of active disease. According to a global plan called 'Time to act', published by WHO, UNAIDS and the Stop TB Partnership, a million lives can be saved between now and 2015 by more effectively dealing with TB/HIV co-infection.
Still, scientific modelling shows that tuberculosis will not be eliminated without new, more effective vaccines. Vaccines that are safe for HIV-infected children and that provide better protection against pulmonary TB. Over the past years, scientists have made tremendous progress in the development of these vaccines. We now need to call upon politicians, decision makers, industries and donors to provide them with all the support they need to deliver these vaccines and eliminate tuberculosis. (CNS)
Jojanneke Nieuwenhuis - CNS
(The author is an Associate Communications and Advocacy Relations, TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative – TBVI and writes for Citizen News Service (CNS). Website: www.citizen-news.org)