You probably don’t worry much about tuberculosis. Why you should care…

tuberculosisWhat do tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS have in common?

Poverty is the leading risk factor for dying from any of these diseases. All three are preventable and treatable, yet over 3 million people died from them last year, the vast majority of those deaths in developing countries. As recently as 2002, these three diseases accounted for 10% of global mortality.

You know about AIDS, and you probably know something about malaria, but if you’re like I was until recently, you may not know anything about tuberculosis except for that pesky skin test you get at the doctor.

TB just hasn’t received the same attention as AIDS or even malaria, yet it’s the second most common cause of death due to infectious disease––just behind AIDS. Over 95% of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

What’s causing the problem? A few simple numbers:

  • Nearly 9 million people get sick from tuberculosis each year.
  • Without proper treatment, over half of those affected will die from the disease.
  • Our health systems are currently missing about 3 million people who get sick from tuberculosis (1/3 of the total).
  • That will lead to something around 1.5 million TB deaths (the number was 1.3 million in 2012).

Today is World TB day. You may see something about “Reach the 3 Million” today. That’s based on these numbers––the 3 million who are being missed each year by the health systems. If we were able to properly diagnose and treat these 3 million, we would save a lot of lives and slow the disease’s spread.

Fortunately, some organizations have already made great strides in prevention and treatment. From 1990 to 2012, the TB death rate dropped 45%.

Compassion on the harassed and helpless

Take a look at Matthew 9:35–10:1––

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

The Bible consistently connects the coming of God’s kingdom to real, physical healing for people. Jesus talks about an anointing to proclaim good news alongside an anointing to proclaim recovery of sight for the blind and setting the oppressed free. Sometimes we “spiritualize” healings in the Bible and think that Jesus’ healings have to do with a healing of the soul; however, we don’t see only that sort of “spiritualized” healing throughout the Scriptures. Instead, Jesus has compassion on the harassed and helpless by healing every disease and sickness.

We believe that God continues to have compassion on the harassed and helpless. Furthermore, we believe that God continues to call out to his disciples today, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We usually take this passage to mean that we should go out and proclaim the good news with our words. In its context, though, Jesus’ call is equally that we might go out and have compassion through healing of real sickness and disease in the world. We proclaim the good news of God’s restoration powerfully when we join God in the work of healing and eradication of disease.

If you’re a United Methodist, you have cause to be proud about our role in this. The UMC has named as one of its four areas of focus “Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally.” We’ve backed that up with our money, pledging $28 million to the Global Fund––one of the leading organizations in the fight against these diseases of poverty.

We United Methodists aren’t usually too excited about the large chunk of our budgets that go toward “apportionments.” Today, take heart that some good things are happening with that money.

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