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Have you been experiencing bad coughs that have lasted for more than three weeks? Have you been feeling weak, coughing up blood, having chest pains, chills, night sweats, weight loss and/or loss of appetite?

These are symptoms of the communicable disease tuberculosis (TB) and could very well be signs that you have been infected.

Caused by the bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB is among the top three causes of death for women age 15 to 44. A disease that affects the lungs, it is spread from person-to-person via air droplets released during coughing, spitting, sneezing, singing or talking. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tuberculosis is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent, and has lead to the death of millions of people all over the world.

In 2010 alone, approximately 8.8 million people were infected with tuberculosis and of that figure, 1.4 million died from the disease.

The estimated number of people, who are falling ill due to tuberculosis each year has been in the decline and this is particularly true in Jamaica, as the numbers have fallen in recent years, to just a little over a hundred people being affected.

But, with WHO estimating that about one-third of the world’s population have latent TB, which means that they have been infected but are not yet ill, it is important that people remain vigilant against the disease.

Director of Health Promotion and Protection in the Ministry of Health (MOH),

Dr. Sonia Copeland, said that while the infections are on the decline, it is important that the Jamaican population be properly sensitised about the disease so that preventative measures can be taken.

It is against this background that the Ministry this week, organised public sessions across the island in commemoration of World TB Day, which will be observed on Saturday (March 24) under the theme: Stop TB in my lifetime!

Sensitisation meetings were held at health centres to provide the public with information on prevention and treatment. Through these sessions, persons were equipped with knowledge to identify symptoms in those infected and to employ preventative measures that will disable the spread of the disease. 

There was also a health fair at the Harbour View Health Centre and a public display at the Sovereign Centre in Liguanea. A church service will be held tomorrow at the Meadowvale Seventh Day Adventist Church in Meadowbrook starting at 10:00 a.m.

Dr. Copeland  said that public awareness is an important part of the process of eliminating TB, noting that “if we break the chain of transmission then we will no longer have TB in Jamaica. “We are better equipped with our diagnostics and treatment and we shouldn’t really have children, the younger generation, becoming infected with tuberculosis,” she pointed out.

Jamaicans are being urged to encourage persons with symptoms of TB to seek medical care and to avoid spending time in enclosed areas with infected persons. It is also a good habit, Dr. Copeland said, for persons to wash their hands properly, cover their mouth when coughing, and ensure that their homes are properly lit and ventilated.

World TB Day has been observed globally since 1982 in an effort to educate the public about the devastating health and economic consequences of TB, its effect on developing countries, and its continued tragic impact on global health.

 

By Toni-Ann Russell, JIS PRO