Tuberculosis claimed nearly two million lives last year. Yet one course of drugs – costing about £10 – will stop it in its tracks. Steve Adams reports on a recent visit to Pakistan and an encounter with one 18-year-old for whom treatment came too late.
“Will Sangita recover?” I asked.
“She will die from TB,” Imrose replied. “She has had three courses of drugs and three failures. She seems to be resistant.”
There were lots of things I'd wanted to change that day: the relentlessness of Pakistan's midday heat had become intolerable. If I could just turn down the sun a few degrees. And the landowner's demand for 'gifts' after we crossed his soil. I'd have happily re-scripted that encounter.
But this meeting with Sangita was in a different league.
Sangita was an 18-year-old whose life was being sucked away by a disease that has been totally curable for 60 years. For the price of a tank of fuel, her life could have been restored.
As it was she sat silently, beyond the point of no return, acutely aware of her fate.
We were in Pakistan's Sindh province – in the south-east of the country – visiting one of Tearfund's partner projects: the Diocese of Hyderabad TB Control Programme.
Imrose, our host, was the project's Chief Paramedic. He explained that if TB patients only take a half-course of drugs, the disease develops immunity and the patient is likely to become resistant to treatment. If they take a full course they will get better …
The project has been hugely successful: default rates for those in treatment had fallen to less than five per cent. Or, put the other way, the majority of those treated were getting better.
In 1944, a cure for TB was discovered. During the Fifties the number of TB cases declined by 75% worldwide and it was thought TB would be eliminated by the year 2010.
Yet today, three people die every minute from TB and this year another 1.7 million lives will be lost – 98 per cent of them in poor countries. And one third of Aids patients die from TB. It’s predicted that in the next 15 years nearly one billion more people will be infected, around 200 million will get sick and 70 million will die.
Yet with access to medical advice and treatment, there is no reason why TB should claim a single life.
“Sangita is young and unmarried, and may die within the year,” Imrose told us later. “Her father knows he may lose a child and is very worried.”
But Imrose sees his mission as more than just physical treatment. “My faith is very helpful in my work,” he says. “Before my work I pray with my workers for my patients. I also pray with my patients - three or four times each day.”
This means Imrose can do more than just rub his hands mournfully. The Christian development work they practise is holistic. Imrose continues to offer the family spiritual hope, support and encouragement: true good news to the poor.
At the end of our time with Sangita, Imrose invited me to pray for her. Though not Christians, her family welcomed this offer. Placing my hand on her head (as is appropriate in that culture) I asked God to stand close to Sangita and to drive the disease from her.
Tearfund's ongoing work is dependent upon the gifts of Christians. People who overcome the temptation to be passive in the face of such needs, and who put themselves in the shoes of poor people around the world.
In Pakistan, it costs £36 to save the life of someone with TB. Just £8 a month keeps a doctor on the road for life-saving follow-up visits to rural communities.
All around the world Tearfund supports local church-based projects treating people with diseases such as TB, leprosy and HIV and Aids.
This work takes time and requires commitment. Please consider standing with us and making a regular donation by Direct Debit – enabling us to plan future grants to partners.
Your gift will be used in a project treating people who have TB, HIV and Aids or a similar health-related illness.
Stand with those who have TB and HIV & Aids. Act now. Visit www.tearfund.org/inspire and give online. Or call 0845 355 8355 (ROI 0044 845 355 8355) – please mention when calling that you read about this appeal in Inspire magazine.
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