In 2017, around the world as many as 4,000 people died of tuberculosis on any given day. That added up to an estimated — give or take several hundred thousand lives — 1.3 million people killed by a curable disease. An estimated 10 million people developed tuberculosis — a disease that also is preventable. The illnesses developed in every country in the world, according to the World Health Organization Global TB report for 2018 released today.
All of that represents progress, in some cases rapid, with southern African countries that include Zambia, eSwatini, Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe seeing declining rates of illness steep as 8 percent in the last several years thanks to vigorous civil society and national efforts. Overall, however, the rate of declining incidence stayed at about 2 percent. And while case reporting — an indication of accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment — continued to rise as well, only about two thirds or less of those cases were reported to national tuberculosis programs, according to the report. Undiagnosed, untreated, hundreds of thousands of cases continued to lead to ongoing transmissions and preventable deaths.
A tuberculosis survivor spoke at the report’s launch in New York, to describe how, diagnosed during her second pregnancy, she was isolated for 75 days, “the hardest days of my life,” she said. “I ask you to imagine them if I wasn’t a middle-class American.”
With those data, those comments, and remarks from the director of WHO’s global TB program, Japan’s representative to the United Nations, USAID’s deputy administrator for global health and UN Special Envoy on TB — and former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator — Ambassador Eric Goosby, the data released today was presented as a challenge, and somewhat of an agenda for the focus and commitments sought at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting on tuberculosis next week. It will be the first to focus on the disease that several WHO reports ago, was recognized, with HIV as the world’s leading infectious disease killer.
While about 50 heads of state have at least tentatively said they would be at the “high-level” meeting, the political will that takes them there was a product of unrelenting effort on the part of people affected by tuberculosis, who “put their heart and soul” into raising awareness and driving responses to counter the disease, Amb. Goosby said.
But now it comes down to money — about $2 billion more annually than is currently being spent to drive research and development for new diagnostic tools, medicines and preventive measures, including a vaccine, and about $13 billion worldwide for responses on the ground worldwide, speakers said, as well as commitments to make universal access to health care a given right.
In the meantime, the global medical nonprofit Médecins Sans Frontières, called the report released today “a shameful report card,” and highlighted data reflecting failures to screen and diagnose people sick with the disease, saying: “If we’re not even diagnosing people with TB, how are they supposed to get treated?”
The TB Alliance, a nonprofit working to further the discovery, development and delivery of better, and more affordable tuberculosis medicines, noted that the data highlight the inadequacies of current treatment arsenals against the disease.