5 things to know about the number one infectious killer in the world
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5 things to know about the number one infectious killer in the world

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By Jenny Ottenhoff, ONE Global Health Policy Director, and Spencer Crawford, ONE Global Health Research Assistant

The latest Global Tuberculosis Report 2016 sounded the alarm that there is a higher global burden of tuberculosis (TB) than previously estimated. TB is an unfortunate example of a disease of poverty, with the majority of cases and deaths occurring among poor and marginalized people in developing countries. Weak health systems hinder efforts to stop the spread of TB and to treat those already infected. And even when people get treatment, the first-line of defense may not work.

Here are five things to know about TB – from why it remains a global challenge to what we can do about it:

A lung with miliary tuberculosis. (Photo credit: Yale Rosen/Flickr)

A lung with miliary tuberculosis. (Photo credit: Yale Rosen/Flickr)

1.Tuberculosis is the leading infectious killer in the world

Last year, TB killed three people every minute adding up to an annual death toll of 1.8 million people – greater than other major infectious diseases killers like AIDS or malaria.  While men account for nearly 2/3 of these deaths, TB remains among the top killers of women.

2. Over a third of new TB cases go unreported

Imagine if everyone living in Madrid and Berlin became infected with tuberculosis, but all of the cases in Berlin went unreported and therefore unaddressed. On a global scale, that is what happened last year: the World Health Organization estimates that there were 10.4 million new TB cases in 2015, but around 40% of those cases went unreported. Unreported cases go undiagnosed and untreated; many of those missed with die and most will continue to infect others posing a huge challenge to prevention and treatment efforts. Almost half of these missing cases occur in just three countries: Nigeria, India, and Indonesia. Without strengthening health systems to capture and report new cases of TB in these high-burden countries, the world will remain off-track to reach global milestones in the fight against this infectious disease.

Sister Eden visits 50-year-old tuberculosis patient Desta in her home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo credit: John Rae/ONE)

Sister Eden visits 50-year-old tuberculosis patient Desta in her home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo credit: John Rae/ONE)

3.Drug-resistant TB remains and urgent and growing threat

Drug resistant TB fails to respond to the standard first-line drugs, and requires more time and more money to treat.  In 2015, over half a million people were estimated to be living with some form of drug-resistant tuberculosis, but only 19% of these people were receiving the treatment they need. Further, only one in five cases of drug-resistant TB was reported.  Tackling drug-resistant TB through better prevention, detection, and treatment in just five countries – Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Russia and China – would help account for 60% of this gap.

4. The world is falling $2 billion short of the funding needed to adequately address TB

In 2016, $6.6 billion was spent to address TB globally, the vast majority of which came from domestic governments. Still, this is about $2 billion short of what the World Health Organization estimates is needed to fully fund the global response. Filling this gap in the next five years will be critical to reach global targets needed to end TB by 2035, and the cost of inaction is stark: failing to invest more in the next five years could result in 8.4 million additional TB cases, 1.4 million additional TB deaths, and $181 billion lost to compromised productivity by 2030.

Clinic staff, doctors and community volunteers are trained on early detection and treatment of TB, promoting greater awareness that TB is curable. (Photo credit: USAID)

Clinic staff, doctors and community volunteers are trained on early detection and treatment of TB, promoting greater awareness that TB is curable. (Photo credit: USAID)

5. TB has a cure … and the world has a plan to put an end to this infectious diseases killer

Unlike AIDS and other infectious disease killers, TB can be cured by a course of medication that has a high rate of success when administered properly. TB treatment has saved 49 million lives between 2000 and 2015, and the treatment success rate is over 80%. By adopting the End TB Strategy, world leaders have committed to knocking out the world’s number one infectious disease killer by 2035. The strategy sets global targets that must be hit in 2020, 2025, and 2030 to ensure we are on track. At ONE, we’ll be watching to hold leaders accountable for making progress and we hope you’ll join us.

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