More action needed to write ‘last chapter’ of TB

The find comes at the latest WHO Global Tuberculosis Report which reveals that 7.5 million people will be diagnosed with TB by 2022 – the highest number ever since the UN agency began global surveillance in 1995.

TB is an infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs. It is caused by a type of bacteria and is spread through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or spit. TB can be both prevented and cured.

Access to health services

The increase in TB diagnosis was attributed to good improvements in access to and delivery of health services in many countries, said the report, which includes data from 192 nations.

India, Indonesia and the Philippines – which together accounted for more than 60 percent of the global reduction in new diagnoses in 2020 and 2021 – all surpassed 2019 levels last year.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO The Director General recalled that TB had plagued previous generations for millennia. People suffered and died from the disease without knowing what it was, what caused it, or how to stop it.

Writing ‘the final chapter’

“Today we have knowledge and tools they could only have dreamed of,” he said. “We have political commitment and we have an opportunity that no generation in human history has had: the opportunity to write the last chapter in the history of TB.”

Worldwide, an estimated 10.6 million people became ill with tuberculosis in 2022, up from 10.3 million the previous year.

The majority were in the WHO regions of South-East Asia, Africa and the Western Pacific, which together accounted for almost 90 per cent. Smaller proportions were reported in the eastern Mediterranean, the Americas and Europe.

The total number of TB-related deaths, including those among people with HIV, stood at 1.3 million in 2022, down from 1.4 million the previous year.

However, COVID-19 disruptions resulted in almost half a million more deaths from TB in the period 2020-2022, and the disease remains the leading killer of people living with HIV.

In the meantime multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) remains a public health crisis. Last year, an estimated 410,000 people developed one or another type resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin (MDR/RR-TB), but only two in five received treatment.

While there is some progress in the development of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines, “this is limited by the overall level of investment in these areas,” the WHO said.

Missing the tag

Global efforts to combat TB have saved over 75 million lives since the year 2000, but action must be stepped up, the agency said, as it remained the world’s second-leading infectious killer in 2022, behind COVID-19.

Despite the significant recovery in 2022, progress was insufficient to meet the global targets set in 2018, with pandemic-related disruptions and ongoing conflicts being major contributing factors.

For example, the net decline in TB-related deaths from 2015 to 2022 was 19 percent, or well below the target of a 75 percent reduction by 2025.

From commitment to action

At a meeting held during the UN General Assembly’s high-level week in September, the international community reinforced the 2018 commitments and targets and set new ones for the period up to 2027.

The new goals include reaching 90 percent of those in need with TB prevention and care services, using a WHO-recommended rapid test as the first method of diagnosis, providing all patients with a health and social care package that ensures the availability of at least one new safe and effective TB vaccine and closing funding gaps.

The report emphasized that ending the global TB epidemic requires translating these commitments into real action.

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