The World Health Organization declared March 24 as National Tuberculosis Day to “find…treat…cure tuberculosis patients.” This was the call to action of this year’s TB day. When I think about this alarmingly dangerous epidemic, I think about ways we can help.
Recently, members of U.S. European Command traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, at the request of the U.S. Agency for International Development to look at ways to support the Georgia Ministry of Health to shine a light on a particularly virulent strain of this disease -- Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis, or MDRTB.
European Command Civil Affairs technician, Sgt. 1st Class John Newland, was struck by the poor conditions in which staff struggle to provide adequate care for TB stricken children at the severely under-resourced and under-funded hospital in Tbilisi.
His experience is, unfortunately, common in this part of our world. What they found was frightening: under-funded facilities that lacked windows and heat; and medical machinery that were either falling apart, or completely broken. What staff that is available is constrained financially; therefore can’t offer the care they want to give to their patients.
Why should we be concerned about the spread of tuberculosis? The World Health Organization has identified this as the fastest growing problem in that geographical area. Carefully screened, tested and educated on preventative measures, U.S. service members perform training missions in Georgia and in other areas of the world where TB is a reality. Nevertheless, this disease can adversely affect the health of our armed forces. Eighty-five percent of the world’s MDRTB diagnoses happen within Armenia, Kosovo, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan. This is an overwhelming burden for these countries that they cannot conquer on their own.
In response to this growing crisis, USEUCOM, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, and the Georgian Ministry of Health are engaging many civilian partners i.e., doctors, universities and industry. We are pursuing a “whole of society” approach to not only stop the epidemic in its tracks, but also provide the nations in need with the tools and resources necessary to prepare them for an uncertain future.
While the strategy of containment and eradication of MDRTB in Georgia and its neighbors is in the pre-implementation stage, Dr. Catherine Johnson, USAID’s senior development advisor to USEUCOM, is joining U.S. Army Maj. Wendy Zaborowski, USEUCOM Directorate of Logistics, Humanitarian Assistance Excess Property Program Manager, to investigate where the command can help alongside industry to improve the Georgian government’s ability to attack this scourge.
An estimated 7,000 diagnosed cases of TB exist in Georgia today. By improving clinics and providing proper equipment, medical professionals will be ready for the daunting challenge.
United States European Command’s dedication to these countries will further progress the development and help eradicate MDRTB.