UN Meeting Will Address World's Most Deadly Infectious Disease

24 September, 2018

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Some diseases receive a lot of attention in the media. Viruses like Ebola Virus Disease, HIV and influenza are just a few examples.

However, none of them is the number-one infectious disease killer around the world.

Jessica Vega has drug-resistant tuberculosis. She cooks in her home in the poor neighborhood of Carabayllo in Lima, Peru, Sept. 30, 2015. (AP Photo)
Jessica Vega has drug-resistant tuberculosis. She cooks in her home in the poor neighborhood of Carabayllo in Lima, Peru, Sept. 30, 2015. (AP Photo)

Scientists say that tuberculosis, or TB, is the deadliest infectious disease. The World Health Organization reports that, in 2017, 10 million people were sickened with TB, and 1.6 million people died from the disease.

The United Nations General Assembly hopes to bring attention to the problem by holding its first-ever, high-level meeting on tuberculosis. The meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 26, at the UN's headquarters in New York City.

One goal of the talks is to expand efforts to end the disease and help those affected.

One such person living with TB is 54-year-old Stella Malgas of South Africa. Life has not been easy for her. She takes nine pills a day for her condition, far less than the 27 she used to take each day. She is unemployed, suffers from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

She says people she knows, even close family members, keep a distance from her.

Tuberculosis may not get the kind of attention that other diseases do. However, health experts warn that we should not ignore TB.

Hank Tomlinson heads the Division of Global HIV and TB at America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He says that TB is a major health threat.

"It's the No. 1 infectious disease killer. And it kills more people now annually than HIV. There are about 1.7 million deaths each year from tuberculosis. And it's a threat everywhere because of the way it's spread, and the ease with which it is spread."

Tuberculosis is a bacterial disease that spreads through the air. The people most affected are those who live and work closely with other people in small spaces and those with weak natural defenses for fighting disease.

Health experts at the CDC say that about 2 billion people are infected with tuberculosis worldwide. Rebecca Martin is Director of the CDC's Center for Global Health. She says that preventative treatment is most important, especially for those with the latent, or inactive, form of TB.

"Getting them on treatment which is less expensive, a shorter course, and the adherence is much higher, we can stop going on to active TB, which leads to spread of more TB."

The CDC website explains the difference between latent and active forms of the disease. It says "Persons with latent TB infection do not feel sick and do not have any symptoms. They are infected with M. tuberculosis, but do not have TB disease. Persons with latent TB infection are not infectious and cannot spread TB infection to others."

To treat the disease, doctors can advise patients to take medicines. But if patients do not complete their treatment, drug resistance can develop. As Hank Tomlinson notes, this makes treating TB even more difficult.

"These are variants of tuberculosis that are severe. They don't work with the common four-drug treatment. They are resistant to one or more of those drugs and they require a different, more challenging course of treatment for a patient."

Scientists and health officials hope that the high-level U.N. meeting will strengthen the fight against TB and possibly save millions of lives.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Jill Craig reported this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted her report for Learning English. Additional information from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

pill n. a usually medicinal or dietary preparation in a small rounded mass to be swallowed whole

annually adv. once a year : each year

expensive adj. costing a lot of money

adherence n. the act of doing what is required by

symptom n. a change in the body or mind which indicates that a disease is present

variant n. strains of a disease

challenging adj. testing one's ability, endurance, etc: