With One and a Half Million People Dying from TB Every Year, It’s Time to Accelerate Progress

Statement from TB Alliance on WHO Global TB Report 2019

October 17, 2019

The public health progress in the World Health Organization’s Global Tuberculosis (TB) Report 2019 this year can be found in steady improvements in tracking infections and treating patients that the world has neglected for far too long. However, we cannot afford to celebrate as long as TB remains the world’s top infectious disease killer. As the report authors note, “the pace of progress worldwide and in most regions and countries is not yet fast enough.”

In 2018, about 1.5 million people died of tuberculosis, representing a 6% decrease from 2017. While this signals an improvement, it remains an intolerable number of deaths from a disease that, under the right conditions, can be prevented and treated, especially with new diagnostics and treatments now becoming available.

The amount of people with drug-resistant forms of TB enrolled in treatment has risen from one in four to about one in three. However, even for that fortunate third, the realities of treating drug-resistant TB today – often with 18+ months of treatment with thousands of pills and a success rate of 56% – continue to take a dire economic and human toll. We need coordinated and bold action to deliver on the promise of new diagnostics and treatment options that can make a difference.

Progress against TB has been limited to partial solutions and slow improvement. In the face of resistance to TB treatments, with about half a million cases of drug-resistant TB last year, patients and their families are in desperate need of new solutions – including scientific innovation in drugs, diagnostics and vaccines. It is time to move these forward at an accelerated pace.

We now can be aggressive and bold. This can be achieved, but needs dedicated action and a boost in funding; otherwise the world will fail to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the goals set at last year’s United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB. TB Alliance applauds the historic increase ing funding for the Global Fund announced last week in Lyon, France. However, even the US$14 billion that has been committed cannot solve the problem unless we can deliver more impact for the money. This requires innovation, which in turn requires bold levels of funding for research and product development.

The war against TB can only be won with breakthroughs, enabled by sustained investment. Complacency cannot end an emergency.