Irish Times (10.16.12)
Asia, the world’s most densely populated continent, is a major breeding ground for TB. India and China together have nearly 40 percent of the world’s TB cases. Between 1990 and 2010, China’s TB death rate fell 80 percent, from 216,000 in 1990 to 55,000 in 2010, and the number of people ill with TB dropped by half, according to the World Health Organization. China is the biggest of the 22 countries that have shown a sustained decline in TB cases over the past 20 years and has made dramatic progress in TB control. India’s situation, however, is severe and accounts for 21 percent of the world’s TB cases, with 1.98 million people developing TB and nearly 300,000 dying every year.
Many Chinese people are finding hopeful news about TB from a blog written by a 21-year-old university graduate named Wei from Beijing. He chronicles the challenges of negotiating an overstretched medical system and the fear he felt when he became ill. Wei writes of his personal journey of being so sick and having to wait a long time for test results at a military hospital; doctors finally diagnosed him with tubercular pleurisy. During treatment, he used the extra time to write about his experiences. Finally, he returned home, but again became ill and returned to the military hospital in March of 2012. Doctors moved him to a pulmonary disease hospital, where a doctor there, who is a family friend, diagnosed Wei with pulmonary TB and began the process of making him better. Wei’s dosages of drugs were increased, his health improved, he was released from the hospital, and his tests were better. Wei wrote his blog from home to encourage other TB sufferers online, and he went to the doctor whenever he felt nervous. By June, he returned to work but moved out of Beijing because the air was too dry; Anhui has damp air, which is good for the lungs.
While Wei’s account of his disease expresses the difficulties he had, his words also describe how the disease is cured— his message is an encouraging one. Wei’s story fits into the broader picture in China and demonstrates how even the world’s most populous country, China, can make progress in stopping deaths from TB.