If you want to save the lives of people with HIV, start with treating concurrent tuberculosis infection, says Winston Zulu, a TB/HIV treatment advocate from Zambia. "It's very, very important, especially in Africa, where the leading killer of people with HIV is tuberculosis," Zulu said on the sidelines of the 36th International Conference on Global Health, May 26-30, in Washington, D.C.
TB weakens the immune system and increases the risk of complications among people with HIV. Zulu became HIV-positive in 1990 and contracted TB seven years later. He has recovered from TB and relies on first-line antiretroviral drugs to keep HIV at bay. He lost four brothers to TB.
According to Zulu, two-thirds of HIV-positive Zambians also suffer from TB. Inadequate diagnosis and improper treatment hamper efforts to control the disease, he said. "TB is the only disease that if left untreated someone can infect 15 others within a year. So treating it also works as a prevention so that others won't catch it."
Zulu supports efforts to develop a TB vaccine, but noted that achieving basic public health goals -- clean water, sanitary housing, and adequate nutrition -- also would check the spread of the disease. "Personally, I feel that would be like a real, real challenge, even more challenging than finding a vaccine, I guess."