Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not your usual story about a conference

The 36th International Conference on Global Health started today in Washington, but one of the presenters today had a very unique perspective.

Winston Zulu is a tuberculosis survivor who is also HIV-positive. Zulu's talk was about eradicating tuberculosis to sustain the lives of those who are HIV-positive in Africa. Zulu makes the case that TB damages the immune system and brings those with HIV into AIDS creating a double jeopardy across the continent.

From the Voice of America, reporter Howard Lesser was at the conference to make note of Zulu's remarks.

Zambian-born Winstone Zulu became HIV-positive in 1990 and seven years later contracted tuberculosis. Four of his brothers died from TB, but with careful diagnosis and medication, Zulu survived TB and keeps his HIV in check with a regimen of first-line anti-retroviral drugs (ARV’s). A participant in the Washington conference, he explains that the links between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are alarmingly high and require greater international attention.

“It’s very, very important, especially in Africa, where the leading killer of people with HIV is tuberculosis. And basically what that means is that if you see all the statistics that talk about the number of people that have died in Africa from AIDS, and then you factor in TB and say, look, if we would have treated TB, then that would have changed the picture completely. And this is why it doesn’t make any sense to me for anybody in Africa to do AIDS work without putting in TB,” he says.

A growing body of evidence from sub-Saharan Africa points out that coming down with TB severely weakens immune systems and puts the lives of people living with HIV-positive conditions in great jeopardy. Describing himself as a global TB/HIV prescient advocate, Winstone Zulu notes that the unsettling experience of losing four brothers to the same disease is not as uncommon as it may seem in Zambia, where illness frequently claims the lives of multiple siblings within the same family.

Zulu claims it is urgent for healthcare providers to step up treatment and diagnosis of TB.

“I always challenge people and say, look, you can keep people living with HIV alive by treating tuberculosis. And because it’s the leading killer of people living with HIV in Africa, that’s a big achievement,” he observes.

Zulu cites poverty and HIV as the main factors that account for two-thirds of HIV-positive Zambians also suffering from tuberculosis, which readily spreads among people who infect others within a community. Some of the main stumbling blocks in treating TB patients and stopping transmission are inadequate diagnosis and improper medication.

“TB is the only disease that if left untreated, someone can infect 15 others within a year. So treating it also works as a prevention so that others won’t catch it,”

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