Op-Ed: Shedding Light on the State of Tuberculosis on a Post-COVID-19 Campus 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic the state of Connecticut has seen a drastic increase in tuberculosis cases. Photo by pix4free.org.

Most of us here at the University of Connecticut have gone to school or worked through the COVID-19 pandemic, an era full of isolation, FaceTime calls and worrying about the health of ourselves and our loved ones. In the United States alone over the past three years, 1.1 million people died as a result of COVID-19 — and that’s with a 1% fatality rate. In the meantime, as the pandemic shifted COVID-19 to the forefront of our healthcare efforts, many other prominent diseases flew under the radar. Resources and funding for non-COVID-19 related issues became scarce, and people avoided seeking care while in lockdown. One of the biggest examples is that, after years of progress in low- to middle-income countries, tuberculosis (TB) rates started rising for the first time in more than a decade. Even today, it is deadly with a fatality rate 7 to 35 times that of the COVID-19, and it remains the leading infectious killer in the world

Over the last two years, Connecticut has seen a 24% increase in TB. While this isn’t enough to necessitate a pandemic status, if TB is left alone in Connecticut, the United States and globally, it is expected that there would be 43 million cases by 2030 and, additionally, 6.6 million deaths. A vast majority of these cases are preventable or treatable, meaning that with proper infrastructural changes, a problem like this could be avoided. Given our increasingly interconnected world, it only makes sense that regardless of how many existing cases are in the U.S., immigration and tourism to and from other nations can increase the incidence of TB across the country. 

As such, the EndTBNow Act, reintroduced in Congress earlier this year, could serve as a solution. As a bipartisan bill, it appeals to both sides of the political spectrum in setting broad goals for the U.S. to fight against increasing TB cases, both domestically and internationally. It encourages the U.S. to become a global leader by catalyzing research for tools to treat TB and by nurturing programs in TB-ridden countries to control the spread of the disease. This could look like increasing diagnostic and treatment training for frontline healthcare workers, improving accessibility to new technology as it is discovered, and managing infection control in public spaces like schools and prisons. Additionally, the U.S. would collaborate with the private sector and global health organizations (ex. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria) to craft a strategy to respond to TB worldwide. 

It’s easy to dismiss global health as something too broad or too distant to directly impact your life here in the United States. It’s also easy for these bills and government matters to sound inaccessible to college students and staff. At the same time, however, the more united we are in confronting this issue to our officers, the more confident we can be in ensuring the health of our own communities and in approaching new places without the stigma of health risks. It’s a way to act now to make sure a TB pandemic will never stain the pages of our history books. 

And remember — these are our senators, our representatives, our officers. It’s as simple as calling Senator Chris Murphy’s office and asking him to cosponsor the EndTBNow Act in the Senate or as easy as emailing your representative’s office to keep an eye out for the bill’s introduction on the floor of the House of Representatives. As constituents, our voices hold more weight to our elected officers when they’re numerous, and it’s important to be empowered by that fact to make a ruckus loud enough in their inboxes or call logs to capture their attention. After all, although global health is often the first to go in American priorities, it is a very gratifying investment that nourishes not just the rest of the world as a moral reward but also ourselves as our own dangers are mitigated. 

Karina Patel is a sixth-semester physiology and neurobiology major and linguistics and philosophy major at the University of Connecticut, writing on behalf of UConn Partners in Health Engage 

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