The oral vaccine for polio was discovered in my lifetime. Except for a few isolated incidences, polio has essentially been eradicated. Small pox, another deadly disease that those of us of a certain age had to be inoculated against before starting school, is also essentially eradicated. Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV, however, continue to challenge world health organizations. With global support and early testing, detection, and treatment worldwide, we could have no new cases of TB and HIV by 2015.
I was fortunate to be vaccinated against polio and small pox. My best friend in second grade, however, contracted polio before she could be vaccinated. She wore braces on her legs and had the horrible stigma of being the only person in elementary school with polio. You can imagine how ugly kids were to her.
TB and HIV are another story. I was a chaplain at a major Army hospital in the early 1980s. One of the patients I routinely saw was diagnosed with lung cancer. I would sit on the edge of his bed and hold his hand while we talked. Inevitably he’d have a fit of coughing when he tried to talk. It was awful seeing him struggle to breathe or cough up what looked like his lungs.
I was getting ready to make my usually rounds one day and one of the doctors called me aside. He wanted me to have a test for TB right then and there. Apparently, my patient didn’t have lung cancer. He had tuberculosis and I now had inactive TB.
Shortly after I started my year of treatment, my sons and I were in California visiting my family for Christmas. I received a call from the Colorado Public Health Department requesting that my sons be tested immediately for TB. Their licensed day care provider had family visiting from Pakistan and one of the family members presented in the emergency room with active TB! Now my sons would be starting a year of medicine.
We were fortunate to be living in a country that takes public health issues seriously and has ways of quickly mobilizing to track, notify, and treat people with communicable diseases. When my son was diagnosed with HIV, there was a protocol he had to follow to protect himself and others.
We may think we don’t need to be concerned about other countries’ health concerns or even health concerns we don’t think impact us directly. Those days are long gone. Because we are a global community, we are all impacted and it serves all of us to be invested in wrangling TB and HIV out of existence. We need to fund global testing and treatment. We need to be educated and tested ourselves. We have the answers and we know what to do. With a little concerted effort, we can meet the global goal of no new cases by 2015!
If you’re looking for a simple way to be involved, my sister is participating in the upcoming NorCall AIDS Cycle. My son is part of the support crew for Team CARES. Your donation goes to the clinic that directly benefits my son and others! Oh, and the picture above is my sister, Janet and my son, Peter.