While Canada responds to COVID-19, another leading infectious disease, tuberculosis (TB), continues to devastate communities globally, including communities in Canada’s north.
Like COVID-19, TB is an infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs and spreads when a person sneezes, coughs or talks. Despite it being a preventable and curable disease, it claims the lives of 1.5 million people every year, and is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
Today (Wednesday, March 24) is World Tuberculosis Day. This provides people around the world with the opportunity to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with the millions of people who suffer from TB, and the millions who have lost their lives from this infectious disease.
The international community highlights World TB day by lighting up their landmarks in red. This year, several buildings and monuments across Canada, including Surrey, will be lit up in red to show solidarity with those affected by TB. Around Surrey and Vancouver, you can look for these landmarks that will be lit up in red today:
• Surrey Civic Plaza
• BC Place
• Sails of Light at Canada Place
• Vancouver Convention Centre
• Science World
In 2019, 10 million people across the world fell sick with TB and 1.4 million died, including 230,000 children. In Canada, in 2017, over 1,700 people in BC were diagnosed with TB, including close to 300 people in British Columbia.
TB especially affects people living in vulnerable and marginalized communities. These communities are also the ones who have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Such communities include Indigenous communities, newcomers, people who are HIV-positive, people who are homeless or those who have compromised immune systems.
In fact, while Canada has one of the lowest rates of TB across the world, TB rates in Inuit communities remain alarmingly high with rates that are 290 times higher than the non-Indigenous population. Three years ago, the federal government made a pledge to eliminate tuberculosis in Inuit communities by 2030, but since 2017, no report has been released on recent data.
In the past year, some of the efforts made by the Inuit Public Health Task Group had also temporarily shifted towards COVID-19. Earlier last year, the chief public health officer had provided a statement on the importance of responding to TB by accelerating public health measures and addressing social inequities that people in Inuit communities experience.
On a global scale, resources across the world have largely been diverted to COVID-19 making it harder for people with TB to access essential health services. As a result, they are not receiving adequate treatment and a timely diagnosis. Even more alarmingly, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria estimate that an additional half a million people will die with TB in 2020 alone.
Although two years ago, leaders made a declaration to end TB, there is still a clear divide between the targets and commitments made by world leaders as shown by the 2020 progress report. While we focus our efforts towards COVID-19, we must not forget about those who are ill with TB and how their health and livelihoods have further been disrupted by the pandemic.
TB REACH is an organization that tries to find hard to reach communities to provide them with adequate care. The organization provides support for community-led initiatives for key populations that are otherwise left behind, and is equipped to fill in gaps for service provisions during the pandemic. It was founded in 2010 with financial support and leadership from the Government of Canada.
Canada must maintain its investment in TB REACH by committing $85 million over five years to support people affected by TB especially given the devastating impacts of the pandemic. While COVID-19 is on the world stage, the lesser known TB epidemic continues to ravage communities across the world.
We’ve seen how quickly governments have responded to COVID-19. It’s high time now that we also listen to the voices of the unheard, raise awareness and take action to combat TB.
What else can we do? Today, find the above-mentioned places lit up in red. Take a photo and share it on social media, and tag your Member of Parliament (MP). Use the hashtags: #StopTheDeadlyDivide, #WorldTBDay2021, #TBREACH, #Canada4Results
Surrey’s Harsimran Grewal recently graduated from UBC with an interest in public health and is a Results Canada volunteer.