Tuberculosis: Voices of the unheard (Pictorial)

Tuberculosis continues to rip apart thousands of Afghan lives
It’s time to mend them

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As public health experts, we use numbers to present the tremendous size of the tuberculosis dilemma: 2 million deaths in the world every year and 120 000 deaths in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region alone. These are, without doubt, extremely important and disturbing statistics that describe the enormity of the challenge we confront. However, away from numerical depiction of the problem, its human face needs to be recognized and emphasized. The suffering caused by tuberculosis has many aspects, social and economic. It is imperative that we understand the suffering and hardship tuberculosis imposes on the people who have the disease and on their families, and the struggle each faces to cope with the arduous changes in their lives as a result.

This pictorial book, Tuberculosis: voices of the unheard presents that human face of tuberculosis. Indeed, each face clearly communicates the measure of suffering in each person living with tuberculosis. They are from Afghanistan; women and men, young and old––each is a victim of tuberculosis, a disease we have known for centuries and a disease that is completely preventable and curable. Some of these people, unfortunately, are among the many dying every day around the world. The Government of Afghanistan and the World Health Organization are responding to this challenge, supported by international tuberculosis advocates like Anna Cataldi, Ambassador of the Stop TB Partnership and a former United Nations Messenger of Peace and Ricardo Venturi, a renowned photographer. They visited Afghanistan in June 2007 not just to bring these images of the misery wrought by a preventable disease but to give a voice to those who cannot make themselves heard.

Women are at the centre of this agony. In Afghanistan, 70% of tuberculosis patients are female. They are mothers, daughters, wives and children. Their pain deepens when their fathers, husbands and siblings suffer from the same affliction. Ricardo Venturi’s photographs not only detail the life of ordinary Afghan women affected by tuberculosis but also portray the vulnerability and neglect haunting their lives. The photographs, at the same time, take the viewer on a journey of discovery of the meaning of suffering in conflict-ravaged countries, so expressively described by Anna Cataldi in her powerful story, in the opening pages.

Each face among the photographs vividly asks us to think of what can be done to alleviate the pain. Tuberculosis is indeed totally preventable and curable, and thus these faces should be wearing smiles and radiating life. In fact, these photographs compel us to consider that this is the time to act, to stop the loss and contribute towards halting tuberculosis. I hope you too can hear the unheard voices in the photographs and will respond to their call.

Hussein A. Gezairy MD FRCS
Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean