It was the 19th century and tuberculosis (TB) was ravaging through Europe and America, killing 1 in 7 people. No one knew what it was and how to even stop it. People were starting to feel vulnerable. Something most of us can now relate to because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, this was all going to change on March 24, 1882 in Dr Robert Koch’s lab. He finally cracked the case wide open. He discovered the nasty creature that was causing tuberculosis, the TB bacillus. His revelation meant that researchers and doctors could finally start to diagnose and cure tuberculosis. Dr Robert Koch’s momentous day of discovery is what we now celebrate as World Tuberculosis Day.
World Tuberculosis Day 2020 – It’s Time to End TB!
It has been over 100 years since the discovery of TB, and it is still is one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases. While TB is curable, it still infects 30,000 people and kills 4,000 of them every day. However, since the year 2000, unified global efforts have helped save 58 million lives through various TB outreach and treatment programs. Every passing year, the World TB day is used to create awareness under a unified banner. For this year, World Health Organisation (WHO) has chosen the World TB day theme to be “It’s Time to End TB” and is calling world leaders to act now against TB around 5 key areas:
- Make access to prevention and treatment more readily available for everyone
- Provide enough and sustainable funding for TB research
- Provide socially equal and human centric TB response
- End any form of stigma and discrimination
- Start building accountability
SDG 3 – For Good Health & Wellbeing, WASH Your Hands!
You might read all of this and go, “alright, you haven’t told me how to prevent this”. You are absolutely right. Where are my manners! Here we go, the spread of TB can be prevented with these 5 simple tips
- Always cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap
- Don’t visit other people and don’t let other people visit you
- Avoid going to work, school or any other public places
- Avoid public transportation
Now, you are probably going, “why do I feel like I have read this about a million times in the last couple of months?”. That’s because it is eerily similar to the advice given to us to contain the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 or coronavirus. The arch enemy to most infectious and contagious disease around the world – social distancing and hygiene. As boring as these advices are, they are highly effective. Social distancing contains the spread of the disease and good hygiene prevents you from getting the disease.
This all sounds very simple. To stop a deadly infection, I just need to stay home and wash my hands? Putting ignorance aside, if it was that easy, why haven’t we been able to make tremendous progress in achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) good health & wellbeing and clean water & sanitation?
What if I Can’t WASH My Hands?
Truth be told, practicing hygiene is not that easy. It is not because washing your hands for 20 seconds feels like an eternity, but a lot of people don’t have access to the necessary facilities. Just look at the heart wrenching facts –
- 2 billion people are living in area with high levels of water stress
- 2 out of 5 people worldwide don’t even have access to soap and water for handwash
- 663 million don’t have access to improved water sources
These people don’t even have a choice to practice good hygiene. Without basic water and sanitation needs, nearly 800 children are dying every day from preventable diseases. All of us who are practicing social distancing and good hygiene (whether we like it or not) must realise that we are in a very privileged situation. Not many people around the world have this option.
This is why programs like the UN’s WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) becomes pivotal when dealing with infectious diseases like TB and coronavirus. They work with over 100 countries to help bring these basic needs to people who lack access. In 2019 alone, WASH was able to provide clean water to 14 million people and build over 11 million basic toilets. However, we are still a long way from solving this problem.
This means, if your country is dealing with TB or any other infectious disease like the coronavirus, there will be people out there who are defenceless. So, if you can practice social distancing and hygiene, you should. By doing this, you are protecting yourself and others around you. You might feel all of it to be a bit extreme and anti-climactic. However, as Chicago doctor Emily Landon put it,
“It’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix from your couch. But if we do this right, nothing happens. A successful shelter-in-place means you’re going to feel like it was all for nothing, and you’d be right: Because nothing means that nothing happened to your family. And that’s what we’re going for here.”
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