A tireless advocate for people infected with both tuberculosis and HIV in Zambia and the manager of the national TB control programme in India has won a prestigious new UN health prize for their efforts to transform control of the debilitating, but curable disease that kills some 5,000 people a day.
Winstone Zulu from Zambia and LS Chauhan from India became the first winners of the 'The Stop TB Partnership Kochon Prize', inaugurated this year by the Partnership, a network of more than 500 organisations whose secretariat is housed at the UN agency World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva.
The Kochon Foundation was set up in 1973 by the late Chong-Kun Lee, chairman of the Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical Corp, one of the first TB drug manufacturers in South Korea.
Zulu himself was cured of tuberculosis, although all of his four brothers died of the disease. He is a co-founder of Kara-Kabwe Programmes for Kara Counselling, a provider of HIV/AIDS counselling in Zambia, and was co-president of TBTV.Org, one of the first global organisations of people with TB and HIV/AIDS.
Dr Chauhan is deputy director-general (tuberculosis) and programme manager of the National TB Control Programme. Since 2002 he has overseen the rapid expansion of the DOTS TB-control program in India, a remarkable accomplishment in the country that bears the world's heaviest TB burden.
TB is a global public health menace of catastrophic proportions. Like common cold, it spreads through air. Only people who are sick with TB in their lungs are infectious. When infectious people cough, sneeze, talk or spit, they propel TB germs, known as bacilli, into the air. A person needs to only inhale a small number of these to be infected.
Left untreated, each person with active TB will infect up to 15 people every year, but infected people will not necessarily become sick. The immune system walls off the bacilli which, protected by a thick waxy coat, can lie dormant for years. When someone's immune system is weakened, the chances of becoming sick are greater.
According to WHO, someone in the world is infected every second. Overall, a third of the world's population is currently infected with the bacillus and 5 to 10 per cent of these, if they are not also infected with HIV, become sick or infectious some time during their lives. People with both HIV and TB infection are more difficult to treat successfully.
The highest number of new cases in 2004 occurred in Southeast Asia, which accounted for 33 per cent of the global total. But the estimated incidence per capita in sub-Saharan Africa is nearly twice that of Southeast Asia, at nearly 400 cases per 100,000.