‘Silent killer’ makes a comeback

Tuberculosis once was thought to be a disease of the past, virtually eradicated.

It’s not. It’s back. With a vengeance.

Frontline, PBS’s landmark documentary series, examines the return of the disease in a special that premiers tonight on TV and online. “TB: Silent Killer” airs tonight at 9 on Panhandle PBS.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tb-silent-killer/

It will give us a look at two families that allowed filmmaker Jezza Neumann to live among them, telling their story about the second-leading killer among infectious diseases on the planet.

How has TB made a “comeback”? Drug-resistant viruses have cropped up among TB patients, making the drugs virtually useless. TB is running rampant in several Third World countries and is causing tremendous misery for the people afflicted by it.

***

Here is where I would like to drop a very famous name on you to let you know its impact on individuals from all walks of life.

In 2004 I attended the International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok, Thailand. The focus of the conference was on HIV/AIDS and how non-government organizations were raising money to combat that deadly disease.

But a gentleman arrived at the conference who had suffered from TB while he was imprisoned in South Africa. His name? Nelson Mandela.

The former South African president held a brief press event where the AIDS event was occurring. Journalists were invited to attend. There would be no questions posed to the great man. But we stood in the cramped room as Mandela arrived. He was frail then. He didn’t speak long, only a few minutes. Ten years after that encounter and I’m still in awe of being able to lay eyes on this gigantic world figure.

He told us that as important as it is to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, it is equally important to find a cure for tuberculosis. He contracted the disease while he was held captive by the South African government on Robben Island.

He would recover, of course, and would go on to become one of the 20th century’s most revered statesmen.

Frontline will tell a story tonight that very much mirrors the agony that the late, great Nelson Mandela suffered.

TB has returned. It’s no longer a memory. It’s here.

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