Wanted global action to end TB

23Mar 2020
Editor
The Guardian
Wanted global action to end TB

World Tuberculosis Day, observed on 24 March each year, is designed to build public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis (TB) and efforts to eliminate the disease. In 2012, 8.6 million people fell ill with TB, and 1.3 million died from the disease, mostly in the Third World.

World TB Day is one of eight official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with World Health Day, World Blood Donor Day, World Immunisation Week, World Malaria Day, World No Tobacco Day, World Hepatitis Day and World AIDS Day.

24 March commemorates the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch astounded the scientific community by announcing to a small group of scientists at the University of Berlin's Institute of Hygiene that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus. According to Koch’s colleague, Paul Ehrlich, “At this memorable session, Koch appeared before the public with an announcement which marked a turning-point in the story of a virulent human infectious disease. In clear, simple words Koch explained the aetiology of tuberculosis with convincing force, presenting many of his microscope slides and other pieces of evidence.” At the time of Koch's announcement in Berlin, TB was raging through Europe and the Americas, causing the death of one out of every seven people. Koch's discovery opened the way toward diagnosing and curing tuberculosis.

In 1982, on the one-hundredth anniversary of Robert Koch's presentation, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) proposed that 24 March be proclaimed an official World TB Day. This was part of a year-long centennial effort by the IUATLD and the World Health Organisation under the theme “Defeat TB: Now and Forever.” World TB Day was not officially recognised as an annual occurrence by WHO's World Health Assembly and the United Nations until over a decade later.

Fewer people fell ill and died from tuberculosis (TB) last year but countries are still not doing enough to end TB by 2030, warns the World Health Organization (WHO).  Although global efforts have averted an estimated 54 million TB deaths since 2000, TB remains the world’s deadliest infectious disease.

WHO’s 2018 Global TB Report, released in New York today, calls for an unprecedented mobilization of national and international commitments. It urges political leaders gathering next week for the first-ever United Nations High-level Meeting on TB to take decisive action, building on recent moves by the leaders of India, the Russian Federation, Rwanda, and South Africa. To meet the global target of ending TB by 2030, countries need to urgently accelerate their response – including by increasing domestic and international funding to fight the disease. The WHO report provides an overview of status of the epidemic and the challenges and opportunities countries face in responding to it.

Former US President Bill Clinton marked World TB Day 2000 by administering the WHO-recommended Directly Observed Therapy, Short-Course (DOTS) treatment to patients at the Mahavir Hospital in Hyderabad, India. According to Clinton, "These are human tragedies, economic calamities, and far more than crises for you, they are crises for the world. The spread of disease is the one global problem for which . . . no nation is immune."

In Canada, the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health noted on World TB Day 2014 that 64 per cent of TB cases reported nationally were among foreign-born individuals and 23 per cent among Aboriginal people, highlighting TB as a key area of concern about health equity.

Today the Stop TB Partnership, a network of organisations and countries fighting TB (the IUATLD is a member and WHO houses the Stop TB Partnership secretariat in Geneva), organises the Day to highlight the scope of the disease and how to prevent and cure it.