As health organizations worldwide prepare to commemorate World Tuberculosis Day on Sunday, the Ontario Lung Association warns that the province’s battle against this infectious lung disease is far from over.

“There is a popular misconception that TB is a disease of the past here,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rea, Associate Medical Officer of Health at Toronto Public Health and a member of the Ontario Lung Association TB Committee. “This is not true. TB continues to be a public health concern in Ontario and we must remain vigilant to maintain and continue our success in the fight against this disease.”

TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that spread through the air. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means they are infected but are not ill and cannot transmit the disease.

The most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that 1,577 new cases of TB were reported nationwide in 2010, with higher incidence rates among Aboriginal communities and people arriving from countries where the disease is endemic. Ontario had the most TB cases of any province (633) and about a third of all people with TB in Canada live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

George Habib, president and CEO of the Ontario Lung Association, says that research is critical to the success of the worldwide campaign to prevent and treat TB and other chronic lung diseases.
“We know from the TB conferences organized every two years by the Ontario Lung Association that Canada has a wealth of globally recognized TB expertise,” said Habib. “But they need more support from funding agencies to maintain Canadian engagement in the global TB research effort. With a stronger focus on research, we could witness the end of TB in our lifetime.”

Although the global TB death rate dropped 41 per cent between 1990 and 2011, 8.7 million people became ill and 1.4 million died from TB in 2011, making it the second biggest infectious killer of adults worldwide. More than 95 per cent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries where it is among the top three killers of women aged 15 to 44.

Steven Spriensma is a journalist and former news editor at Ignite News. He has a degree in Geography from McMaster University and an advanced diploma in journalism from Mohawk College.

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