One of the greatest achievements of our time has to be the speed and ease with which we can now travel from one part of the world to the other. We head off for city breaks at the blink of an eye, and find ourselves spanning the globe in a matter of days on back-to-back business trips.
While this increased mobility has far improved our lifestyles and efficiency on the one hand, it has brought with it a series of new challenges on the other. Due to changing migratory patterns there has been a resurgence in recent years in the mobility of diseases, among them, tuberculosis (TB).
Most people probably think that an illness like TB only exists in less affluent parts of the planet, yet it exists on our own doorstep, here, in the EU. In fact, around 500,000 people currently suffer from TB in the EU and European economic area. In some countries, the rate is growing.
Eastern European member states, such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania, show the highest incidences of TB in the EU. In these countries, the disease crosses borders, with migrants travelling into Europe from neighbouring countries where health systems and screening are not as well-equipped to deal with the disease and the challenges it brings.
"MDR-TB is on the rise, so the time could not be better in seeking an effective and comprehensive solution to limiting the impact of the disease and in raising awareness"
These increased challenges have given Latvia the impetus to focus on eliminating TB during its current EU council presidency.
Later this month on 30–31 March, ministers from the Eastern partnership will meet for the first time to discuss how improvements through best practice can lead to the elimination of TB. This is a crucial step towards alleviating the problems which have led to an increase in the disease across this region.
TB can be cured, as long as the appropriate treatment schedules are delivered to patients, and provided they complete their course of treatment. Conversely, failure to do so can lead to a multidrug-resistant strain of the disease (MDR-TB).
MDR-TB is on the rise, so the time could not be better in seeking an effective and comprehensive solution to limiting the impact of the disease and in raising awareness.
The Latvian initiative supports the joint efforts made by the world health organisation and the European Respiratory Society, who launched a TB elimination framework in 2014, outlining an action plan for the pre-elimination and eventually the complete elimination of TB in low incidence countries.
Efforts have also been made to help healthcare professionals diagnose and treat their patients through shared knowledge, thanks to a new online hub known as the TB consilium.
The consilium allows medical professionals to contact one another for second-opinions and advice on their difficult-to-treat TB cases, thus building a knowledge pool which should help to improve treatment levels where understanding is currently lacking.
"EU decision makers must ensure the importance placed on TB elimination extends beyond this current EU council presidency term, which ends in June"
And while these initiatives are the kind of thing that could see an end to TB once and for all, it’s only part of the solution. The efforts made by the Latvian presidency are in part a giant step towards spreading the word on TB and in highlighting the disease as one of Europe's the key health issues.
But EU decision makers must ensure the importance placed on TB elimination extends beyond this current EU council presidency term, which ends in June.
To help the momentum in building awareness around TB, new partnerships must be established among policy makers and health associations in finding new methods to make elimination a priority.
It is these collaborative efforts that can lead to finding new solutions to the existing problems, so that we can stop TB and eliminate the epidemic from our continent, once and for all.