Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death from a single infectious disease. About a quarter of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Consequently, a proportion of 5-10% of the 2 billion people will develop TB in their lifetime, with increased probability among people living with HIV and among people affected by risk factors such as undernutrition, diabetes, smoking, and alcohol consumption. However, TB is treatable and curable and it is projected that with adequate programming and funding for TB, it is possible to end the killer disease by 2030. Despite this, the current trends in achieving the milestones remain quite wanting.
In the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, the TB response suffered devastating effects and recording a loss in progress for the first time in 20 years. It was reported by the Global Fund that there was an 18% drop in the number of people treated for TB in 2020. The same trend can be seen across other programmatic areas. The data was evaluated against 2019 results. The most immediate effect of the huge decline in the number of people diagnosed with TB was an increase in the number of people who died on TB in 2020.
Inadequate financing for TB remains the biggest barrier to achieving the targets to End TB by 2030, as highlighted in the Global End TB milestones which were developed during the 2018 United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB. At the meeting, world leaders pledged to deliver at least US$2 billion annually for TB research, of which US$550 million was assigned for vaccines. Despite these commitments, there is an annual shortfall for TB research funding of US$1.3 billion. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic as the limited financing that was available was stretched to its limits.
“Never waste a good crisis” has been the post pandemic rallying call as we look to take lessons from the COVID 19 pandemic response and use them to ensure that END TB goals are met. Key among the lessons learnt is the need for adequate mobilization of funding to develop new TB vaccines as the current Vaccine in use was developed 100 years ago and has severe treatment limitations.
It is clear that the only way out is through. We can only end the pandemics if we invest in ending them and invest more than we ever have. To make progress in reducing the burden of tuberculosis disease, there needs to be adequate and sustainable funding for TB diagnosis, treatment, prevention, research, development and innovations globally and nationally. Adequate funding can be achieved through ensuring a fully funded the Global fund to End HIV TB and Malaria and through increased allocation of domestic resources for health for National TB response including funding for TB research development and innovation.
2022 presents a great opportunity to re commit to the national and global collective efforts of ending TB through pledging increased contributions to the Global Fund. A bold and necessary step towards ensuring reversal of the gains lost in the pandemic and to accelerate our progress towards ending TB by 2030.
The WHO World TB Day Theme, “Invest to End TB. Save Lives” is a timely reminder that to prevent the loss of lives to a preventable and curable disease we need to invest more to End