Share the message to Stop TB in our lifetimes

Today, Sunday, 24 March is World Tuberculosis Day. This is the second year of a 2-year “Stop TB in my lifetime” World TB Day campaign.

Despite all the work already put into eradicating the world of TB, it remains a killer or massive proportions – each day, 4000 people lose their lives to the airborne disease. What makes this number even more tragic is that TB is curable at a reasonably low cost, yet in many regions the fight against the disease remains grossly underfunded.

TB is an airborne disease that is spread from person to person through coughs, sneezes, spits, laughter, speaking and singing. Can the global TB epidemic be stopped in the lifetime of these children?(© All Rights Reserved)
TB is an airborne disease that is spread from person to person through coughs, sneezes, spits, laughter, speaking and singing. Can the global TB epidemic be stopped in the lifetime of these children?
(© All Rights Reserved)

The international health target with regards to TB and HIV-associated TB is to halve the number of TB-related deaths by 2015, compared to 1990 levels. While some parts of the world are on track, the developing world lags behind, with TB-deaths in the African region still being particularly high. According to the World Health Organisation, about 600 000 people died from TB in Africa in 2011 – that is 40% of the global TB death toll. What makes this number significant is that the number of TB deaths in Africa is higher than that of Asia, despite Asia having much higher population numbers, and more TB cases. The difference is that TB in Asia can be more effectively treated thanks to better funding. One of the other problems in Africa is the high levels of TB/HIV co-infection, complicating the treatment regime.

In a potentially positive move, health leaders form the southern African regions (the epicentre of the TB/HIV epidemic in Africa) have come together to address the problem, and they have just released plans for a “1000 day push” to upscale the offensive against TB in Africa, including TB among people living with HIV.

“Armed with a package of new investments and initiatives worth more than US $120 million, the leaders signed the Swaziland Statement, committing them to accelerate progress against the two diseases in the next 1000 days and work with Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to achieve the international targets of cutting deaths from TB and HIV-associated TB by half by 2015, compared to 1990 levels.”

This is positive news for World TB Day, and we can only hope that, despite the African region’s dismal health record, some real good will come of this initiative, thus keeping alive the dream of eradicating TB in the lifetime of this generation.

Be HIV aware, for your sake and for those around you

Today we celebrate World AIDS Day. This is an opportunity for people the world over to join hands and unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS, to pledge support to those who live with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS. Held for the first time in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first global health day.

The red ribbon is the international symbol of HIV awareness.(© All Rights Reserved)
The red ribbon is the international symbol of HIV awareness.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While the focus on HIV and AIDS has become less public over the past couple of years, the fact is that it is still very much part of life in the 21st century. Many advances have been made in HIV treatment, laws have been put in place to protect those living with HIV, and much more is known about the condition. Yet millions of people still do not adequately protect themselves, and discrimination against those living with HIV remain rife. World AIDS Day is there to remind us that HIV and AIDS have not gone away, and that there is still a need for funding of research, for awareness creation and for improved education.

To test how aware and clued up you are about HIV, the World AIDS Day initiative has created an online quiz. Try it – you may be surprised at the results! If you find you scored lower than expected, you can always learn more here.

Show your support, wear a red ribbon, and make sure that you know the facts. The more you know and understand about HIV, the better equipped you will be to take care of your own health and the health of those around you.

World Blood Donor Day

With today being World Blood Donor Day, I thought what better way to gather info for my blog than to immerse myself in the experience, and register to donate on the day.  So I duly pre-registered, filled in some forms, and my booking for this morning was made.

Arriving at the blood bank, more forms had to be filled in, and having never donated blood in New Zealand before, I was quite surprised at some of the rules for eligibility to become a blood donor.

Most of the limitations (never give blood if you or your sexual partner(s) are HIV+, if you carry the Hepatitis B or C virus, if you’re on drugs, etc) seemed pretty sensible, as were the limitations placed on sexually promiscuous individuals.  The geographic limitations, however, were more of an eye-opener, and this is where my good intentions sadly got derailed. It turns out that anyone who had previously lived in a region considered to be high-risk for HIV infection, were excluded from donating for 5 years.  Excluded regions include the entire sub-Saharan Africa, large parts of Asia, as well as specific South American regions.

This exclusion is irrespective of sexual history, previous HIV test results, or any other ‘proof’ of not being HIV+.  So, given my South African heritage I was greeted with a friendly but firm “No thank you”, putting a premature end to my intentions of becoming a blood donor in my adopted country. I can appreciate the logic of geographic exclusion, but cannot help finding it sad that, despite being married and faithful to my wife for many years, and having ‘passed’ a number of insurance and emigration-related HIV tests in the past, I am still considered to be a higher risk than someone earning a living as a prostitute in New Zealand (who only has to wait 1 year before being accepted as a donor).

What makes this experience more ironic, is that the international launch of World Blood Donor Day took place on 14 June 2004 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

You can become a life-saving superhero, irrespective of your blood type.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Oh well… So unfortunately I cannot yet share with you any first hand donor experiences.  What I can do, however, is to share some interesting facts and figures about blood and blood donation:

  • When “donating blood”, you can actually donate a number of different transfusable blood products – red blood cells, platelets, or plasma.
  • When donating a pint of “whole blood”, two to three of the above products can be produced from the donation, hence a single whole blood donation can save the lives of up to three people.
  • If you donate only specific blood components – red cells, plasma or platelets – the process is called apheresis.  A single apheresis donation can produce one transfusable dose of platelets.
  • Of the blood products that can be donated, only plasma has a reasonably long shelf life – it can be frozen for up to two years and blood products made from plasma (e.g. cryoprecipitate) can be stored for up to two years.
  • Red blood cells must be transfused within 35 days from collection, while platelets have an even shorter shelf life – it has to be transfused within 5 days.  As a result of this, there is a continuous need for fresh blood.
  • Healthy bone marrow is continuously working to produce new red blood cells, platelets and plasma in the body.  Blood lost during a donation is replenished by the body over time – the fluids of the donated blood is replaced in just 24 hours. The red blood cells take a bit longer, and will be replaced within about 8 weeks. Typically a healthy donor can donate every three months.
  • In New Zealand, the treatment of cancer requires the biggest percentage of all donated blood products (22%), while blood needed to treat accident victims make up 18%. Mothers and babies receive about 7% of the blood supply.

The bottom line is that blood is always desperately needed, and it really is one of the easier ways of doing something truly amazing for your fellow man.