The WHO has called for an urgent investment of resources, support, care and information into the fight against tuberculosis (TB) as the world prepares to mark World TB Day on March 24, 2022.
According to the WHO, although 66 million lives have been saved since 2000, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed those gains and for the first time in over a decade, TB deaths increased in 2020. The WHO highlighted that ongoing conflicts across Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East have further exacerbated the situation for vulnerable populations.
Global spending on TB diagnostics, treatments and prevention in 2020 were less than half of the global target of US$ 13 billion annually by 2022. For research and development, an extra US$ 1.1 billion per year is needed, the WHO disclosed in a statement.
“Urgent investments are needed to develop and expand access to the most innovative services and tools to prevent, detect and treat TB that could save millions of lives each year, narrow inequities and avert huge economic losses. These investments offer huge returns for countries and donors, in averted health care costs and increased productivity”, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO said.
Investments in TB programmes have demonstrated benefits not just for people with TB but for health systems and pandemic preparedness. Building on lessons learnt from COVID-19 research, WHO stated that there is a need to catalyse investment and action to accelerate the development of new tools, especially new TB vaccines.
Flagship initiatives at risk due to lack of funding
Progress towards reaching the 2022 targets set in the UN High Level Meeting political declaration and the WHO Director-General’s Flagship Initiative, ‘Find.Treat.All’ are at risk mainly due to lack of funding, the WHO highlighted. Between 2018–2020, 20 million people were reached with TB treatment. This is 50% of the 5-year target of 40 million people to be reached with TB treatment between 2018-2022. During the same period, 8.7 million people were provided TB preventive treatment which is 29% of the target of 30 million for 2018-2022.
The WHO disclosed that situation is even worse for children and adolescents with TB. In 2020, an estimated 63 % of children and young adolescents below 15 years with TB were not reached with or not officially reported to have accessed life-saving TB diagnosis and treatment services; the proportion was even higher – 72% – for children under 5 years. Almost two thirds of eligible children under 5 did not receive TB preventive treatment and therefore, remain at risk of illness.
WHO is therefore, sounding an alarm on World TB Day for countries to urgently restore access to TB services, disrupted due to COVID-19 pandemic for all people with TB, especially children and adolescents.
“Children and adolescents with TB are lagging behind adults in access to TB prevention and care. The WHO guidelines issued today are a game-changer for children and adolescents, helping them get diagnosed and access care sooner, leading to better outcomes and cutting transmission. The priority now is to rapidly expand implementation of the guidance across countries to save young lives and avert suffering”.Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme
TB remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers. Each day, over 4, 100 people lose their lives to TB and close to 30, 000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease. Ending TB requires concerted action by all sectors. On World TB Day, WHO calls on everyone- individuals, communities, societies, donors and governments to do their part to end TB.