When I began working on tuberculosis (TB) four years ago, it seemed like an insurmountable global challenge that hardly anyone was paying attention to. At the outset of my career, I honestly didn’t even know it was still a major public health problem around the world. Even now, as a firmly entrenched global health professional, I see that TB only gets a fraction of the attention of diseases that kill far fewer people. Many in the U.S. think of it as a disease of the past, but for millions around the world, it is still an everyday threat, including here in the U.S.
The reality is that TB remains the world’s leading infectious disease killer, claiming the lives of an estimated 1.6 million people in 2017. That’s nearly 4,500 people every day. It’s also one of the leading contributors to antimicrobial resistance, with multidrug-resistant TB (a form of TB that does not respond to any of the four first-line treatments) accounting for one out of every four deaths caused by antimicrobial resistance every year.
While there is no presidential initiative for TB like there is for HIV/AIDS or malaria, there is hope with the multilateral organizations leading the way to try and stop TB from spreading.
According to the World Health Organization, new cases of TB are only declining by about 2% per year. This falls well short of the 4–5% annual decline needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 – health and well-being for all – and its target to end the epidemic of TB by 2030.
Action by the United Nations
Last year during the United Nations General Assembly, the UN held a much-needed high-level meeting on TB to encourage countries to make the necessary commitments to try to curb – and eventually end – the TB epidemic.
This was the first-ever high-level meeting held on TB, and it was a historic moment. One of the major wins from the meeting was a political declaration that was endorsed by governments around the world. This political declaration set the target of treating 40 million people for TB by 2022 as a step toward a TB-free world. Corresponding accountability mechanisms for the declaration are being developed and will help hold policymakers accountable for keeping us on track to make strides against TB.
The Global Fund Steps Up the Fight
Political will is essential for making progress against TB; adequate resources to get services to those at risk are just as important.
Multilateral programs like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are helping to transform TB testing and treatment services where they are needed most by introducing cutting-edge technologies to high-burden, low-resources settings, while also leveraging its funds to encourage countries’ domestic investments in TB prevention, testing, and care.
This year is momentous for the Global Fund as it seeks at least $14 billion in new resources through its replenishment to finance its work for 2020-2022. These funds will ensure that the progress made to date on the three diseases doesn’t backslide. A full replenishment is critical to delivering on the commitments of Sustainable Development Goal 3 by 2030.
It’s estimated that a full replenishment would reduce TB mortality by 46%, averting 1.4 million deaths worldwide. It would also allow 31 million people to be treated with first-line drugs, and 1 million with second-line drugs from 2018- 2022, which would achieve almost 91% of the targets adopted at the UN high-level meeting on TB. It’s clear we need to step up the fight on TB if we want to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3.
As we mark World TB Day on March 24, we know that the road ahead is long if we are going to create a world where TB is no longer a burden. But we know what must be done.
We must continue to have strong multilateral institutions like the UN making action on TB a priority. We must have activists and champions hold policymakers accountable to make progress on TB. We must all call on our governments to make robust pledges to the Global Fund.
It’s time to act and turn the tide on this debilitating and deadly disease.
Take Action: You can help step up the fight against TB.