By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent
Ever since the H1N1 virus reared its ugly head this past summer it has jumped to the top of the list of diseases most deadly to humans. However, an older and wiser disease is still infecting many people across the world with the same deadly consequences. Tuberculosis (TB), a lethal lung infection, is as contagious as the H1N1 virus and spreads easily from person to person. For this reason alone, it is vital for the person infected with TB to be kept away from other people and treated in a hospital.
Unfortunately, in some regions of the world, people with TB are treated as if they have leprosy. They are often shunned by their society and isolated because people are afraid of contracting the disease. Nowhere is this more evident than in Egypt where having TB is often a death sentence for the person afflicted with it. According to the Egyptian government 21 out of every 1,000 Egyptians are infected with TB. However, only 1 in 10 cases becomes active while the remaining stay dormant. Doctors have approximated the number of TB cases in Egypt to be around 17,000. However, independent analysts believe that the number of TB cases in Egypt is a lot larger and could pose even a greater health epidemic than the pandemic flu.
Like most societies, it is the poorest and weakest members of a community that often bear the brunt of disease. In Egypt, slum-dwellers and cement workers are the most prone. In the case of the latter, Scientists believe that years of breathing the talcum-like powdery cement, which often causes Silicosis or lung disease, makes a person 30 more times likely to develop full-blown TB. However, there is no tangible evidence to support that claim besides the fact that cement workers are increasingly developing TB in droves. â€œTB has come to pose a real danger to the people of this country. The problem is that poor Egyptians living in the countryâ€™s slums are more prone to it,â€ revealed Essam al-Moghazy, chief of the National Tuberculosis Control Program, in a recent interview.
Once infected, company protocol often dictates that cement workers infected with TB are fired from their jobs. With most only earning a meager living in the first place, a stay in the hospital for treatment is out of the question. And the company the workers labor for day in and day out simply washes their hands of the sick employee without even offering insurance or other assistance. As a result, the workers have no recourse but to turn towards their home where it is common for them to spread the disease to their families. Cement workers are just one class of workers out of thousands whose jobs are dissolved once the employee contracts TB.
The Egyptian government has high hopes of eradicating TB by the year 2050 as it is the third leading cause of death amongst Egyptians, behind Bilharzia and Hepatitis C. In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report stating that Egypt had been successful in managing the disease with case detection averaging 72% and successful treatment registering at 87%, which is 2% higher than the WHOâ€™s global objectives.