Each year on March 24, we commemorate World Tuberculosis (TB) Day as it marks the day the bacterium that causes TB was discovered in 1882 by Dr Robert Koch. This year, the attempts to raise awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of the world’s deadliest infectious disease killer was pushed aside by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. Without detracting from the significance of the latest infectious disease to rapidly spread and take over the world, let us take this opportunity to remember the 1.5 million people that die yearly from TB, this ancient disease, killing more people than HIV and Malaria combined. An estimated 10 million people fell ill with TB in 2018 and the continuing rise of multi-drug resistant TB escalated this infectious disease to a major global public health threat, contributing to WHO announcing TB as a global emergency, in 1993.
Great efforts are being made globally to diagnose and treat those with TB, with WHO reporting 7 million people newly diagnosed and treated with TB in 2018, compared to 6.4 million the previous year, but although the gap to detect and treat is narrowing, there remains approximately 3 million missing people of whom are NOT being treated including an estimated 50,000 MDR-TB patients (likely to be grossly underestimated) of whom are all contributing to the continuing transmission of this deadly disease.
New tools are critical to the fight in the control of TB and despite efforts into new treatment regimes, there is a long way to go with MDR-TB long and horrendous associated side effect treatments still only having a 55% treatment success and XDR-TB, 34 % success.
This extremely slow growing organism means TB is a disease unlike COVID-19, it spreads slowly and could arguably be part of the reason why there is complacency to this slow but deadly ancient disease. It is the slow growth and ability to hide from the body’s immune response that makes this disease so difficult to understand and so challenging for the development of novel tools necessary to combat this disease.
Let this COVID-19 pandemic serve us as a reminder to what experts have been warning about, infectious diseases impacts not only health and mortality but all aspects of life as we know it.
Stakeholders around the world are working together to not only raise awareness about this global epidemic but IT IS TIME we reach out to find and treat those infected and find solutions to combat and END TB!
Dr Gabriella Scandurra PhD, Chair, TB Forum