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The time to act against Tuberculosis is now

TB map

The world needs to act now to stem the growing global public health challenges posed by tuberculosis (TB), says a new report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit. TB alone was responsible for 1.3 million deaths in 2012, making it the second mostly deadly infectious disease after HIV/AIDS.

The lack of progress towards new testing and treatment is a cause for concern in light of the development of multi-drug resistant (MDR) forms of TB.

“Current efforts are insufficient and resistance is out of control,” said Dr Neil Schluger, Chief Scientific Officer of the World Lung Foundation and chair of the Tuberculosis Trials Consortium.

The report recommends the implementation of new strategies that account for the major weaknesses in current TB control efforts. Namely, that means finding the people who have TB, using cost-effective technologies and making TB a more important issue around the world.

TB Facts

“It is like an orphan,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary at the STOP TB Partnership, in describing the lack of attention on TB. “It has been neglected even in countries with a high burden and often forgotten by donors and those investing in health interventions.”

There have been recent commitments to TB Control. The World Health Organization (WHO) approved the Post 2015 Global Strategy and Targets for Tuberculosis Prevention, Care and Control, an effort to decrease the incidence of TB to below 10 cases per 100,000 people and for TB-caused deaths to fall by 95% by 2035.

The report hopes to apply more weight to the throttle, so that the goals set out by the WHO can be attained. Standing in its way is the growing problem of MDR-TB. It is only responsible for 5% of all new cases, but it is a growing problem in parts of the world. Russia, for example, is seeing nearly one out of every four new cases involve a drug resistant form.

The problem is illustrative of the potential problems caused by TB. It also shows the problems with current control efforts. Drug resistance is in part due to poor allocation and use of medicine, as well as a lack of diagnosing people with TB in the first place.

“The vast majority of people with multi-drug resistant MDR-TB are not properly diagnosed or treated appropriately, and we have to recognize that MDR-TB is a real global public health emergency,” said Schluger. “Not only is the growth of drug resistance making TB control more difficult, but it is also revealing failures in basic TB control.”

It has been roughly eight years since WHO published its Stop TB Strategy. The report argues that the major changes in addressing TB have been slow to take place. There is still much work to do in just getting countries to admit that MDR-TB is a public health problem.

Amid all the concerns, there is some good news. There are countries that are finding ways to succeed on the TB front. Kenya, for example, is highlighted in the report because of its ‘Cough Monitor’ program that allocates more resources to areas of the country that have a higher TB prevalence.

The overall report reads in a positive light. The work that has been so far is commended. All of the four recommendations are focused on ways to make sure that progress is accelerated so that TB is under control and does not become a global epidemic.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]