Thunder Bay

Tuberculosis is not just a 'disease of the past,' says Doctors Without Borders

An upcoming panel discussion in Thunder Bay, Ont., is hoping to help raise awareness about a growing health concern that many residents in Canada believe is "a disease of the past," according to officials from Doctors Without Borders.

A panel discussion will be held on Thursday, Feb. 28 at Superior C.V.I

A relative adjusts the oxygen mask of a tuberculosis patient at a TB hospital on World Tuberculosis Day in Hyderabad, India, Saturday, March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.) (Mahesh Kumar A./Associated Press)

An upcoming panel discussion in Thunder Bay, Ont., is hoping to help raise awareness about a growing health concern that many residents in Canada believe is "a disease of the past," according to officials from Doctors Without Borders.

Jason Nickerson, a humanitarian affairs advisor for Doctors Without Borders Canada, said approximately 10 million people around the world fell ill with tuberculosis in 2017.

"The reality is, is that [tuberculosis] is a global crisis," Nickerson said, "and roughly more than a million people died of this disease and people just simply aren't aware of the global scale of this epidemic."

It's not a disease you hear about often in Canada, but last year, Thunder Bay experienced a small outbreak of tuberculosis. It's one of the reasons Doctors Without Borders is hosting a panel discussion about the disease here in the city. 7:57

Last year there was a small outbreak of TB in Thunder Bay, which is the reason why Doctors Without Borders decided to host a panel discussion in the northwestern Ontario community to find out how public health officials dealt with the matter.

"We are trying to raise awareness about tuberculosis in Canada generally," he said, "and Thunder Bay was a community touched by TB ... and so there is some public health expertise locally and we also have some field workers who have worked with Doctors Without Borders ... who live in Thunder Bay. So we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to bring these two groups of people together."

Known as a social disease, TB is commonly transmitted among people who live in crowded conditions and is a "disease of neglect and poverty," as it is present in countries "where people don't have access to high quality health services."

However, despite having a "public health system that functions well," there's still approximately 1,600 cases of TB in Canada every year, Nickerson said.

He believes countries like Canada need to "step up" and "invest in developing and implementing" a system that allows proper TB screening, diagnosis and treatment.

"Increasingly we are seeing resistance around the world to the first line treatment for tuberculosis and honestly, we are running out of good tools to treat what we call multi-drug resistant TB," he said, "and we need countries like Canada, we need medical communities around the world, to step up and really invest in the necessary research and development."

He added that in the last 40 years, there has "only been two new drugs for tuberculosis that have entered the market," and only about five per cent of people that need it had access to the treatments last year.

The panel discussion will be held at Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute on Thursday, February 28 at 6:15 p.m.