Fighting Tuberculosis, From Terezin to Today

Opinion

By Inge Auerbacher

Published June 03, 2009, issue of June 12, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Tuberculosis should not be a death sentence in 2009. It wasn’t for me nearly 70 years ago after I contracted the disease in the Terezin concentration camp in what was then Czechoslovakia.

But today, nearly 2 million people die from TB each year, an unconscionable number of lives lost to a preventable, curable disease.

I was diagnosed with TB when I was 11 years old. I had just immigrated to the United States with my parents, one year after being liberated from Terezin in 1945. In my case, the disease had been fueled by malnutrition and other horrid conditions I endured at Terezin.

I was hospitalized for two years starting in 1946, but it was not until 1949 that I was treated with streptomycin, the first antibiotic developed to treat TB. I had another bout of TB in 1953 and was finally fully cured a year later.

Streptomycin and other TB drugs allowed me to live a full life — to go to college and become a chemist, an author and an activist. One of the highlights of my life was learning and writing about Dr. Albert Schatz, the man who co-discovered streptomycin and who, by extension, helped save my life.

Others should have the same chance at life that Dr. Schatz gave me. Unfortunately, tuberculosis today is often a neglected disease, thought of by many Americans as a scourge of the past.

That is a dangerous myth. The bacterium that causes TB is present in an estimated one-third of the world’s population. The disease can spread quickly and easily when a person with an active infection coughs or sneezes. And now, new strains of drug-resistant TB are on the rise across the globe.

These virulent new TB bugs are incredibly difficult to cure. The drugs that helped stamp out my TB in the 1950s are often ineffective against these new strains, and the standard regimen to treat TB relies on medications that are 40 years old. The most common test used to diagnose TB is more than 100 years old, and it cannot distinguish between drug-susceptible and drug-resistant TB.

In many parts of the developing world, TB is essentially a death sentence. It is the No. 1 killer of women of childbearing age worldwide.

We need strong American leadership to battle this deadly disease. President Obama should commit the United States to contributing $2.7 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the largest funder of TB programs in developing countries. Facing a $5 billion donation gap, the Global Fund has slated deep cuts for TB programs across the globe, a move that could reverse vital gains in treating and preventing the disease.

In Congress, lawmakers should work to quadruple the amount America spends on our vastly underfunded global TB programs. And they should dramatically scale up funding for research on new TB drugs, new diagnostics and a more effective vaccine.

There are leading American doctors and scientists — today’s Albert Schatzes — who, given more funding and support, will make new discoveries to cure the millions of people suffering needlessly from this disease.

Inge Auerbacher is the co-author of “Finding Dr. Schatz: The Discovery of Streptomycin and a Life It Saved” (iUniverse, 2006).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.