World Tuberculosis Day: Investment in innovation needed to tackle rising cases of TB

Tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease, is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The World Health Organization, which marks World Tuberculosis Day today, estimates that around 1.8 billion people are currently infected with TB.

Only last year, 10 million people were infected with TB and 1.5 million lost the battle with this disease, according to WHO estimates.

TB is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb), which is airborne and can be spread through coughing and sneezing, the TBAlliance states.

According to the Alliance, the most vulnerable people are women, children, and persons living with HIV or AIDS. The disease is growing more dangerous due to the increasing resistance of the TB bacteria to the existing drugs on the market, making the disease much more deadly.

Although, 66,000,000 lives have been saved since 2000 through global efforts aimed at ending the spread of TB, there is still much more to be done in order to contain this disease, WHO says. In fact, the WHO maintains that the global COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the progress countries made in fighting the disease, and TB deaths increased in 2020, for the first time in 10 years.

World Tuberculosis Day

TB remains one of the deadliest infectious killers on the planet. To call attention to this threat, the WHO and others mark World Tuberculosis Day every year on March 24. The day is aimed at raising awareness about the devastating consequences of TB on health, the economy, and society at large, the WHO says.

In the build-up to World Tuberculosis Day, the WHO on Monday released its latest guidance for protecting children from TB, with changes that include improvements in diagnostics, longer recommended treatment periods for children, use of new medicines and models of integrated TB care.

The event this year goes under the name “Invest to End TB. Save Lives” and highlights the need for global investment of resources to advance the fight against TB and achieve the pledge made by global leaders to put an end to this disease.

“Urgent investments are needed to develop and expand access to the most innovative services and tools to prevent, detect and treat TB that could save millions of lives each year, narrow inequities and avert huge economic losses,” according to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “These investments offer huge returns for countries and donors, in averted health care costs and increased productivity.”

TB investment programmes

TB investments have repeatedly proven to be beneficial for people with TB, and for the entire health system as well, say the WHO news release. Investments are necessary for the development of new tools for fighting this disease, especially in the form of vaccines.

However, progress in this area is very slow due to funding difficulties, and the WHO says that between 2018 and 2020, only 20 million people were treated for TB, which amounts to 50% of the five-year goal.

The WHO notes that the situation is even worse for children and adolescents, where in 2020, 63% of children and young adolescents were not reached for treatment services, while the percentage of children under 5 who were underserved was even higher, at 72%.

“Children and adolescents with TB are lagging behind adults in access to TB prevention and care,” said Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, director of WHO’s Global TB Programme. “The WHO guidelines issued today are a gamechanger for children and adolescents, helping them get diagnosed and access care sooner, leading to better outcomes and cutting transmission. The priority now is to rapidly expand implementation of the guidance across countries to save young lives and avert suffering.”

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