Silent pandemic the world is ignoring
While the world has been fixated by the COVID-19 crisis for the past year, a forgotten pandemic is raging around the world - and right here in Australia - with barely anybody noticing.
Tuberculosis (TB) is preventable and treatable, yet still manages to kill 4000 people every day - with 700 of those children.
It's a disease caused by bacterial infection and commonly affects a person's lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body and can cause serious illness.
And, while it may sound like something that is only a problem in developing nations, there are up to one million people in Australia right now with a latent form of the disease.
One Australian who knows the devastating toll the disease can take is 27-year-old nursing student and restaurant hostess Demi Mason from Perth.
Back when she was 18, she noticed she had severe flu-like symptoms that quickly worsened.
"The first symptoms I had were night sweats, high fever and a cough. I was admitted into hospital and secondary pneumonia was the first diagnosis doctors gave me," she told news.com.au.
However, she said it took around roughly four months and many tests, for it to come back with the TB diagnosis, and the news that she might have to have part of her lung removed.
She said she felt "isolated and scared" by the diagnosis of a disease she thought had been eradicated.
Tuberculosis diagnosis 'made me feel isolated'
"When I was told that I had TB, to be honest my instinct was to not touch anything or go near anyone. I was scared that I might have given it to my family," she said.
"It made me instantly feel very isolated and scared because I knew it was highly contagious and the stigma of an infectious disease did enter my mind."
To this day she has no idea where she contracted the disease, because it can lay dormant in your body for years.
However, she was struggling with an eating disorder at the time - which left her immune system compromised and activated the disease.
In the end, she didn't have to have surgery, but she went through a horrific ordeal over 18 months has she battled the disease with intravenous antibiotics and daily tablets.
She developed all of the main symptoms of TB, which included severe night sweats, coughing up blood, fever, chest pain, fatigue and weight loss.
At the same time, she was battling her eating disorder and her mental health problems - which worsened throughout the process.
"I was extremely privileged to receive the treatment and care from doctors here in Perth. I was monitored very closely and they did absolutely everything to get me better," she said.
Now, she is doing fine - but the battle has left her with a lung condition that she has to manage by keeping healthy.
"It took many years to move past the experience and heal mentally but I have been able to turn a not so good experience into a positive one by becoming a TB advocate," she said.
"I volunteer with a grassroots organisation Results (an international organisation that builds the political will to end global poverty) to share my story to try and end the stigma.
"An element of the disease that can also be a factor towards death when people don't seek treatment."
A million Aussies with latent TB
New polling released for World Tuberculosis (TB) Day this week found only four per cent of Australians know there are one million people with latent TB walking around the nation.
People with latent TB don't have symptoms and therefore cannot infect others but can become seriously ill and infectious when their immunity drops.
In Australia, latent TB is more frequently found in people born overseas, have spent time in countries with a high TB burden or are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background.
The disease remains one of the world's deadliest airborne infectious diseases, killing 4000 people every day, among them 700 children, and close to 15 million people in the past decade.
Results International chief executive officer Negaya Chorley said: "While it is not surprising
that few people know how many fellow Australians have latent TB, it does show how little most of us know about this global killer.
"TB kills more people worldwide than AIDS and malaria combined."
She said the Indo Pacific region has some of the highest rates of TB in the world including in India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.
"The unfolding outbreak of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea is not only an immediate health crisis but could have a lasting impact on the diagnosis and treatment of TB in the country, with resources diverted from treatment and a potential increase in cases of multi-drug-resistant TB," she said.
"Over the past year, we've seen an incredible global effort to tackle COVID-19 and in record time we have developed a number of effective vaccines, diagnostics and improved treatments and outcomes.
"Now it's time we came together in a similar effort to eradicate TB globally."
Funding needed to eradicate TB as it ravages Indo-Pacific
Results is calling on the Federal Government to increase Australia's research and development funding for TB with a fair share target of $30 million per year, which matches the political declaration made at the UN High Level meeting on TB in 2018.
"We must also do more in the Indo-Pacific region with funding for dedicated TB services to continue during the COVID crisis alongside health system strengthening so health systems are well equipped to deal with multiple health crises," she said.
"We should not forget the one million Australians who are estimated to be infected with latent TB, a reservoir of infection that can lead to serious disease. The Federal Government can improve their prospects by fully subsidising the cost of latent TB diagnosis under Medicare."
Originally published as Silent pandemic the world is ignoring