The World Health Organisation has raised concerns over the fight against tuberculosis, “which is stalling in most countries and is not fast enough to reach global targets or close persistent gaps in care and prevention.”
In its Annual TB report 2017, the WHO says that although global efforts to combat the disease have saved an estimated 53 million lives over the past 17 years and reduced the mortality rate by 37 per cent, TB remains the main cause of deaths related to antimicrobial resistance and the leading killer of people with HIV in 2016.
“The sheer number of deaths and suffering speak for themselves; we are not accelerating fast enough,” said WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
According to the report, TB is now the ninth-leading cause of death worldwide and remains the world’s top infectious killer ahead of HIV/Aids, putting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending the global TB epidemic by 2030 in jeopardy.
“While the world has committed to ending the TB pandemic by 2030, actions and investments don’t match the political rhetoric. We need a dynamic, global, multisectoral approach,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
The report estimates that some 10.4 million people fell ill with TB in 2016, 10 per cent of whom were people living with HIV/Aids, but only 6.3 million cases were detected and officially reported, leaving a gap of 4.1 million.
Of the 10.4 million cases, an estimated 1.7 million died of the disease, including nearly 400,000 people who were co-infected with HIV, a drop of four per cent from 2015. The South Asia region leads in the incidence of TB at 45 per cent, followed by Africa at 25 per cent.
The report also attributes the slowing fight against the TB epidemic to the huge financing gaps, with care and prevention investments in low- and middle-income countries falling by at least $2.3 billion out of the $9.2 billion needed this year, aside from an extra $1.2 billion per year required to accelerate the development of new vaccines, diagnostics and medicines.
According to the director of the WHO global TB programme Dr Mario Raviglione, although the mortality rate is falling at about three per cent per year and its incidence is decreasing by two per cent per year, these figures need to improve to about five per cent and 10 per cent respectively in order to begin seeing concrete results towards ending the global epidemic.
“There is this huge burden, and the missing part is the acceleration. We see no acceleration of the efforts against tuberculosis and this is probably the main message emerging from this year’s report,” said Dr Raviglione.