As World Tuberculosis Day approaches on March 24, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for “global solidarity and action” to support a new 20-year strategy aimed at ending the global tuberculosis epidemic.
A statement issued by the WHO and copied to the Ghana News Agency on Thursday said in recent years there had been tremendous progress in the fight against TB, with over 37 million lives saved, but much more needs to be done.
The statement said in 2013, nine million people fell ill with TB, almost half a million of whom had a multi-drug resistant disease which was far harder to treat, and that, an estimated 1.5 million people still die of tuberculosis each year.
It said the disease frequently had devastating economic consequences for affected families, reducing their annual income by an average of 50 per cent, and aggravating existing inequalities.
“This is a matter of social justice, fundamental to our goal of universal health coverage. Each and every man, woman or child with TB should have equal, unhindered access to the innovative tools and services they need for rapid diagnosis, treatment and care,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.
The WHO’s End TB Strategy, adopted by governments at the World Health Assembly last year, was designed to drive action in three key areas: integrated patient-centred TB care and prevention for all in need, including children; bold policies and supportive systems; and intensified research and innovation.
The strategy sets ambitious targets of a 95 per cent reduction in TB deaths and a 90 per cent reduction in cases of TB by 2035.
The statement said an important milestone to be reached within the next five years (2020) is the elimination of catastrophic costs for TB patients and their families.
It noted that eliminating catastrophic costs is feasible through making care more accessible and through financial protection schemes to minimize medical and non-medical costs as well as income loss.
It said 2015 is seen as a critical year for action to adapt and roll out the strategy in diverse settings.
“The progress that has been made in combating TB has been hard won and must be intensified, if we are to wipe out the TB epidemic,” said Dr Eric Goosby, who was appointed United Nations Special Envoy on TB in January this year.
“The End TB Strategy offers new hope to the millions of people suffering and losing their lives to TB each year. It is time to join forces to create a world free of TB.”
The strategy addresses tuberculosis among vulnerable groups, including people living with HIV who develop TB.
It said in 2013 there were an estimated 1.1 million people co-infected with HIV and TB, 360 000 of whom died.
According to it, persistent funding gaps in the TB response also need to be filled to drive progress towards ending the global epidemic.
The statement observed that it is vital that resource gaps of two billion dollars per year for TB interventions and USD 1.39 billion per year for TB research be filled.
It said accelerating research and innovation in basic science, new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines and their rapid uptake, would be critical to break the trajectory of the epidemic and reach the global targets.
“This World TB Day should alert and mobilize as many people as possible to end the epidemic,” said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme. “We must work with innovators in health, development, civil society and the private sector to end the burden of this preventable disease.”