Alaska editorial: Tuberculosis threat can't be ignored

Posted: Tuesday, April 12, 2005

This editorial appeared in Friday's Anchorage Daily News:

The recent report of an increase in tuberculosis cases in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region confirms a warning from the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis last month.

Tuberculosis isn't dead. U.S. numbers might suggest the disease, with a terrible history of killing in Alaska, is a scourge of the past. No. Tuberculosis is a worldwide killer, the No. 1 killer of people with AIDS, and a disease that has developed multiple drug-resistant strains in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, including the Russian Far East.

Tuberculosis isn't just a distant threat. About the time of World TB Day March 24, Dr. Bruce Chandler of the city Department of Health and Human Services said there were 16 cases in Anchorage; half those patients were foreign-born.

Those numbers brought home two points: TB is alive, infectious and dangerous right close to home, and, given the ease and prevalence of international travel, health workers must fight the disease both globally and locally.

Globally, the best bet is the Global Fund, which has operations in 128 countries in the battle against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The United States should be a leader in funding this organization and delivering the most effective treatment and prevention of these diseases.

Locally, we can't afford to let our guard down, as the report from the Y-K Delta shows. Dr. Chandler praised the yeoman's work done by public health nurses and aides who maintain directly observed therapy of patients with TB. That means a nurse or trained aide "is watching the person swallowing the drugs," according to Dr. Beth Funk, Alaska's TB control officer and acting state epidemiologist.

Dr. Funk said the state's TB control program, with base funding of about $1 million in state and federal funds, is doing well but could be doing better. Lawmakers shouldn't hesitate to provide more money if needed. There's no need to panic; neither should we relax the watch.

The good news about TB is that it's treatable and curable. The bad news is that it's still with us.



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