Have you ever felt a little nervous flying? Well, let us put your fears in perspective…
Last week we watched a short and very powerful video made at the AIDS2018 conference in Amsterdam. It included a rousing speech by Blessina Kumar, the CEO of the Global Coalition of TB Activists, imploring that there should be a shift of gear for TB.
Despite having been immersed in the sorry story of TB control ourselves for over a decade, every now and then we still come across a fresh statistic, an aspect of neglect which we hadn’t heard of before, or simply a fresh angle that brings us up short.
Well Blessi did just that in her speech last week: she told the audience that the deathtoll from TB is “like having six tsunamis a year, or having 13 Jumbo Jet crashing every day”.
Now that really did bring us up short!… Thirteen jumbo jets, every damn day, with every single passenger killed? Surely to God she must have got that wrong…?
So we checked her sums, and we realised that she was right (in fact, given that we think that the current mortality estimates are probably under-guestimated anyway, it could be even more – but thirteen-a-day is more than enough to contemplate for now, isn’t it?).
The equivalent of thirteen (full) Jumbo Jets falling out of the sky every day killing all 350 passengers on board - every damn day of the week, year in and year out? That many people dying daily from a disease which (in the vast majority of cases) is curable and whose treatment is cheap, and yet no-one is screaming about this..?? (It adds up to 91 Jumbo’s down every week by the way, or 4,745 planes totalled every year if you want to think bigger still..).
Of course the reality is that Jumbo Jets haven’t actually crashed very often at all. In fact, since they were first put into airline service in 1970, crashes of Jumbo’s have resulted in a total of 3,722 deaths (the last crash was a cargo plane which killed four on board and 35 on the ground in January 2017). Meanwhile, on any average day in the world of TB there'll be over 3,700 deaths by 8pm in the evening… or put another way, if you average out those 3,722 Jumbo deaths across the 48 years that these huge planes have been flying in our skies, you’ll have to wait nearly five days before you can put the first single ‘x’ (for a death) in a box.
But nevertheless when a Jumbo does crash, the world’s media tells the world about it loud and clear, and then folk (rightfully) ask questions about safety standards and demand to know what went wrong. With the help of Blessi’s insight last week, however, we realise more than ever how inexplicable this is: that neither the media, nor the majority of us (and most especially not our elected politicians) seem to give a flying fig about the equivalent of 13 Jumbo jets dropping out of the sky on a daily basis (caused by a disease which is almost always curable).
Can you understand it? - because we can’t.
Since last week we’ve been playing with Blessi’s way of using numbers in a little more detail because we realise that it helps us put these immense numbers into a far more human (and humane) perspective, and so we invite you to consider these other Jumbo-sized statistics (all interpolated from the current official estimated numbers and put through Blessi's Boeing 747 calculator):
- Imagine queuing up at Departures to get on a plane, knowing full well that you only have a one-in-six chance of completing the journey without crashing.. (because that’s what the ratio of estimated annual deaths to estimated new incident cases each year adds up to).
- Oh, you brought your children along with you? Now that’s a bigger shame because they'll only have a one-in-three chance of making it safely to your destination. (and no-one’s up in arms about THAT statistic?!!)
- Meanwhile at least 1,700 Jumbo’s take off from airports all round the world each year each one filled with MDR-TB cases – and this turns out to be even worse because only about 170 of those planes willever land safely - and, if we want to be honest about it, exactly what happens to all of those other 1,500 missing planes is pretty much as much of a mystery as Malaysian Airlines MH370 (which, with its missing 239 passengers and crew, has been occupying all of us and the world’s media for over four years now).
Blessi Kumar tells us that it’s time to ‘sieze the moment’ for TB. The way she’s now shown us to look at this plague tells us very loud and clear indeed that she’s right – in her words, “It’s a must.”
Please note that the image used is of the wreckage at Lockerbie of the PanAm 747 brought down by a terrorist bomb in 1988 killing all 259 on board. The image was published by the Birmingham Evening Mail.