The annual World TB Day was celebrated this year with a call to increase global funding to fight the pesky infectious disease and also to celebrate the achievements documented thus far to get TB under control. The day also marked admission that the TB epidemic is an elusive disease that will require a collective, global effort to slow and eventually eradicate.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.4 million people die every year from tuberculosis. That number is down sharply 41 percent since 1990. The leading co-infection with HIV, tuberculosis remains a difficult disease to treat in part because of the many strains of multi-drug resistant TB that primarily plagues the developing world.
The week leading up to World TB Day, leaders met in Swaziland to sign the Swaziland Statement reaffirming the region’s commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of cutting the TB mortality rate by 50 percent by 2015. Africa is the only WHO region that is not on track to meet the TB MDG. In fact, in 2011, 600,000 people died from TB in Africa accounting for 40 percent of the world’s toll. According to the Stop TB Partnership, Africa has overtaken Asia as the world’s leader in TB cases.
Over $120 million dollars was pledged to jump-start the initiative to render TB under control in Africa. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria pledged $102 million to the effort with additional funding coming from the UK government, the International Organization for Migration, and the Stop TB Partnership. There are now 1000 days before the MDGs expire. Participants who signed the Swaziland Statement are confident that the goal can be reached in Africa.
“The UN has given us a mandate that we have to achieve by 2015,” said King Mwatsi III of Swaziland as he welcomed the delegation. “When 2015 comes, will we be able to say that we have met the challenges set?”
Globally, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) affects 630,000 people. MDR-TB is extremely hard and expensive to treat. And the treatment regime is hard for patients because of its high level of toxicity that causes nausea and abdominal pain.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan stressed that while curing MDR-TB is feasible, it takes 20 to 24 months of treatment with expensive and toxic drugs, some of which need to be administered by injection and some of which are in short supply.
“Despite recent success in shrinking the epidemic, the global TB burden remains enormous. MDR-TB has been detected in virtually every country that has looked for it,” Ms. Chan told a press briefing in Geneva on Thursday.
The $1.6 Billion Funding Challenge
According to the WHO and the Global Fund there is a $1.6 billion shortfall in TB funding which is mainly needed to diagnose and treat MDR-TB. Another $1.3 billion is needed every year for TB research.
We have a choice: we can invest now or we can pay forever. – Global Fund
EXPOSED: the Race Against Tuberculosis from AERAS
EXPOSED is a new four-part series of short films that tell the story of the deadly global epidemic of tuberculosis. The series focuses on current efforts to halt this airborne disease, which is growing more difficult to address, as well as the urgent movement to develop new tools to prevent it.
Aeras is a nonprofit biotech organization that advances new TB vaccines for the world.
TB Vaccines Third Global Forum in Cape Town, South Africa
The third global forum addressing TB Vaccines was held in Cape Town, South Africa on March 25-27, 2013. The forum participants discussed everything from creativity in research and discovery to advocacy and resource mobilization. Visit the forum site at www.tbvaccines2013.org.
Keep up with global tuberculosis news on TheGlobalFund.org, WHO.int , StopTB.org, and ImpatientOptimists.org