World TB Day 2019 Renews Urgent Call for Global Response

On the anniversary of the discovery of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, world health leaders are highlighting an epidemic that kills nearly 4500 people each day across the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the launch of a new initiative to fight the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic along with the Global Fund and Stop TB Partnership, as the global health community prepares to commemorate World TB Day on March 24, 2019.

Observed each year to mark the discovery of the bacterium that causes TB and to raise awareness about the infectious disease, World TB Day will emphasize the urgency of the TB epidemic this year with the theme “It’s Time.” The new joint initiative called “Find. Treat. All. #EndTB,” aims to accelerate the TB response and ensure that patients have access to care. In an interview with Contagion®, Alfred A. Lardizabal, MD, executive director of the Rutgers Global Tuberculosis Institute, explained the urgent need for a better response to TB, which remains one of the top 10 causes of death and the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent—above HIV/AIDS—globally.

“Put another way, TB kills 5000 people every day,” said Dr. Lardizabal. “The social and economic impacts are devastating—including poverty, stigma, and discrimination—and this disease is 100% treatable and preventable. The ‘It’s Time’ campaign for World TB day hopes to highlight this emergency though a multi-pronged approach that includes improved access to appropriate treatment, treatment of latent TB infection, increased awareness, education, and advocacy to end stigma.”

According to WHO, in 2017 there 10 million new cases of TB illness around the world, including 3.6 million cases that went undetected or unreported. In addition, 1.6 million people died of TB, including 300,000 with HIV. Overall, an estimated one-quarter of the world population currently lives with latent TB infection, and up to 15% will go on to develop TB disease. “Global incidence rates have begun to level off, but we are still a long way off from our goal of decreasing annual TB incidence by 90%,” said Dr. Lardizabal.

Although a global public health response to fight TB has saved an estimated 54 million lives since the year 2000 and reduced the TB mortality rate by 42%, issues such as TB and HIV coinfection, drug-resistant TB, and significant funding gaps continue to complicate the epidemic.

“Drug-resistant TB will continue to challenge the global effort in TB control for many years as many low-resource settings globally have yet to implement full-scale strategies to properly diagnose and treat drug resistant TB,” explained Dr. Lardizabal. Only about half of those treated for multidrug-resistant TB are treated successfully.

World leaders have committed to combating the TB epidemic by increasing access to prevention and treatment, building accountability, ensuring sufficient and sustainable financing including for research, and promoting an end to the stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease.

Among the research priorities, said Dr. Lardizabal, is the development of newer effective drug combinations that will shorten treatment of latent and active, and resistant and sensitive TB disease. There’s also a need for accurate diagnostics that can provide information to help clinicians identify which patients with latent TB infection are at highest risk for progressing to disease.