Today is World TB Day 2017. In the past decade, every World TB Day press release or statement could have been exactly the same, only changing one number – the number of deaths – and it’s going in the wrong direction.
Figures from a recent report highlight the staggering future human and economic cost of failing to address TB: 75 million lives lost by 2050 and cumulative economic costs of $16.7 trillion. This very clearly shows that we are not winning the fight. If we do not act now to curb the epidemic, we will all pay the price in the coming years.
Imagine if today the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the discovery of an infectious disease, transmittable by air, with forms that are resistant to most of the drugs we have to combat it -and with even the best drugs having only 50% chance of survival. And that this deadly disease is estimated to kill almost 2 million people in the next year. Can you imagine the immediate global attention and international action for research and development that would receive? Yet, tuberculosis isn’t new and it doesn’t receive this attention.
Tuberculosis is the world’s oldest infectious disease and many people therefore think it is a disease of the past. It is exactly for this reason that we are facing a chronic lack funding for research in to new tools to control the disease. TB research only receives 33% of the $2 billion needed every year, yet it kills more people than any other disease in the world today.
But unlike World TB Days in the past, I feel this year there is hope. One of the most widely spoken statements within the TB community is that we do not have enough political will to act to end TB. The past two years have seen the Global TB Caucus, a network of over 2500 parliamentarians in over 130 countries across the globe committed to ending TB, grow from strength-to-strength.
Global TB Caucus parliamentarians from G20 countries met in Berlin this week, calling on global leaders to act now to avert the “unacceptable risk” of drug-resistant tuberculosis. This year, the G20 are discussing drug resistant infections or antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Tuberculosis - the only airborne infectious disease, accounting for one third of all deaths from resistant infections - must be central to these discussions. There is also a clear incentive for this forum to act: around half of all cases of TB and drug-resistant TB – as well as TB deaths – occur in G20 countries.
In the coming months, health ministers and heads of state of G20 and G7 countries will be discussing the AMR agenda. This is an opportunity we cannot miss if we want to unlock research and development for the tools we desperately need to address TB.
The TB community successfully pressed for the United Nations (UN) to hold its first ever High Level Meeting on TB, which will take place next year. With only four other health-related meetings having been convened by the UN, this is an unprecedented step and one which must also be seized. Ahead of that, the WHO is also hosting its first Global Ministerial Conference on TB this November in Russia.
It is clear that there are key opportunities for global action on TB in the coming months and years. On this World TB Day my challenge to all of us is this - we don’t have enough political will to end TB? It’s ours for the taking.