Saving Haitians from TB
Working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, Dr. Megan Coffee directs a team of volunteer doctors and Haitian and American nurses who care for a vulnerable population in a country afflicted with the highest TB infection rate in the Western hemisphere. In two portable buildings and a tent surrounded by the ruins of Port-au-Prince, Coffee treats patients diagnosed with both HIV and TB. She -- and a constantly evolving staff of volunteer doctors and physicians -- save lives for pennies a day.
TB is eminently treatable and patients are almost always cured. It has all but disappeared from the rich nations but still plagues parts of the so-called Developing World to an extent that most Americans and Europeans would find astonishing. Today, TB kills around two million people, more adults than any other single infectious disease other than AIDS. It shares what Dr. Paul Farmer calls “a noxious synergy” with AIDS. An active case of AIDS often leads to a latent case of TB, and vice versa. In poor countries, TB is the most common proximate cause of death among people who died of AIDS. But because TB mainly infects the poor populations of developing nations, industrialized countries and pharmaceutical companies had for years
TB vividly illustrates the massive gap between rich and poor. Improperly treated, or untreated, TB is a dreadful, deadly disease that eats away at lungs and often other organs of the body, including bones. About two billion people – roughly one third of the world’s population – have TB bacilli in their bodies. Most Haitians are infected with TB. Usually the disease remains latent. Only about 10 percent develop full blown TB. But the chance of becoming ill massively increases among poor people afflicted with malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS in a country where public health had massively deteriorated under years of military rule.