A Portrait of Tuberculosis: Disease Still Kills 1.7M Per Year

One journalist captures the horror of a disease that kills 1.7 million per year.

March 24, 2011, 1:21 PM

March 24, 2011— -- For the past three years, David Rochkind has documented the devastating effects of a disease that, despite being treatable and preventable, has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization: tuberculosis.

Rochkind, an American photojournalist living in Latin America since 2003, naturally became interested in migrant groups in the region. In 2008, he set off to South Africa to report on tuberculosis among migrant gold miners, a disease he'd heard was plaguing the population, but he knew very little about it. What he found there shocked him.

TB was completely rampant, and its reach knew no boundaries. "The disease didn't just affect the individual patient who has it, but also affected their family and the communities where it was found," says Rochkind.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010, Africa's mining industry contributes up to 760,000 new cases of TB each year, with the migrants traveling to work in South Africa at highest risk. Miners in the area are particularly susceptible to TB because of high rates of HIV and silicosis, a lung disease caused by the dust formed during mining. When the miners return home, they take TB with them, passing it on to their families and communities, frequently far from any health center able to treat the disease.

See more of Rochkind's photos here.

But South Africa isn't alone in the epidemic.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.7 million people died from TB in 2009. While the incidence rate is declining worldwide, the number of cases is still rising globally, because of population growth. TB is a cruel disease, stalking the poor and others who live in crowded conditions. While 90 percent of cases are in the developing world, TB has become a growing concern in the U.S. and Europe in recent years. Even more disturbingly, multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), the disease's more difficult and expensive to treat relative, is spreading rapidly in many countries.

Tuberculosis Needs Additional Awareness, Understanding

After documenting TB in South Africa and the urban slums of Mumbai, India, Rochkind went to Moldova, an Eastern European country with one of the largest drug resistant TB populations in the world. More than 22 percent of new TB cases in Moldova are multi-drug resistant, compared with a global average of 3.6 percent, according to WHO.

Though Rochkind's reports and photographs from South Africa, India, and Moldova were published widely in the media, he still wasn't happy with the way it was being presented. "I thought that in order to really understand the disease, and the obstacles it has in treatment and prevention, there really needed to be a more engaging, intense platform to present the work."

So he built the website TBEpidemic.org, an educational portal that teaches not only about tuberculosis, but also how, and why, to start advocacy campaigns. It launched on March 24th, 2011 in honor of World Tuberculosis Day.

Rochkind hopes that schools, health centers and health workers will use it to educate people on a deeper level on an issue he believes is extremely underreported.

Throughout his travels, Rochkind has seen that health is one of the key factors determining an individual or communities' success. "In many ways, if people are healthy, they're much more able to take advantage of the opportunities that life has to offer. If they're not healthy, no matter what else happens in their community, it can be difficult to move forward."

To learn more about the website, and why Rochkind will be speaking before a congressional panel on March 24th, check out SaveOne.net.

Find out how to make a difference for mothers and babies around the world with the Million Moms Challenge.

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