Tuberculosis is now a leading killer bacterial disease

According to report, over 4,000 people are dying each day

DESPITE lower death rates, tuberculosis (TB) is now killing more people each year than HIV, according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO announced that the fight against TB–one of the top infectious bacterial diseases, mainly affecting the lungs–has paid off, with this year’s mortality rate at nearly half of what it was in 1990.

However, 1.5 million people still died from the airborne disease in 2014, with over half (54 percent) in China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

“Most of these deaths could have been prevented,” according to WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2015, released on Wednesday, Oct. 28 in Washington, DC.

WHO estimated that there were almost 10 million new cases of TB last year, making it the number one infectious killer, according to NPR.

The United Nations reported that 4,400 people are dying from the transmittable disease every day.

“Despite the gains, the progress made against TB is far from sufficient, which is unacceptable in an era when you can diagnose and cure nearly every person with TB,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, Director of WHO’s Global TB Program.

In 2014, TB killed 890,000 men, 480,000 women and 140,000 children, according to the analysis. The disease ranks alongside HIV as a “leading killer worldwide.”

Some 400,000 fatalities were double-counted in the report, included under each disease, because the deceased had both infections.

Detection and treatment gaps need to be closed, funding shortfalls to be filled, and modern development of diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines are needed to reduce TB’s overall burden, WHO said.

On the positive side, effective diagnosis and treatment have saved 43 million lives between 2000 and 2015, according to the report.

“The report shows that TB control has had a tremendous impact, in terms of lives saved and patients cured,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “These advances are heartening, but if the world is to end this epidemic, it needs to scale up services and, critically, invest in research.”

The 2015 report describes “higher global totals for new TB cases (9.6. million) than in previous years,” reflecting increased and improved national data and greater in-depth studies, rather than any increase in the spread of the disease.

Among new cases, an estimated 3.3 percent have multidrug-resistant TB, a level that has remained unchanged in recent years, said the UN News Service.

The report showed detection and treatment gaps are especially serious among people with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), which remains a public health crisis. The three countries with the largest numbers of these cases are China, India and the Russian Federation.

“MDR-TB is rampant in some parts of the world such as the former Soviet Union, where up to a third of all [TB] cases are MDR,” said Dr. Raviglione. “Something is not going well there.”

Public officials are worried that TB is not moving as fast as progress against other diseases, and not as fast as they would like.

Additionally, TB does not attract nearly the funding for research or treatment that goes to HIV. WHO data claimed about $6.6 billion was spent fighting TB in 2014, compared to $20.2 billion invested in the fight against HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries.
“Our point is that we should have the same type of investment going to TB and as of yet that hasn’t been achieved,” said Raviglione.

Last year, 1 million people living with HIV were given TB preventive therapy, an increase of about 60 percent compared with 2013. Over half (59 percent) of the population was in South Africa.

“From 2016, the global goal will shift from controlling TB to ending the global TB epidemic,” the WHO report stated.

“Ending the TB epidemic is now part of the Sustainable Development Goal agenda,” said Dr. Eric Goosby, UN Special Envoy on Tuberculosis. “If we want to achieve it, we’ll need far more investment – at a level befitting such a global threat.”

Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group, agreed. “We’re in this dire situation because the vigorous community response, massive research effort and political leadership that distinguished the response to HIV are utterly absent from TB.”

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