NEW YORK, United States, Friday November 6, 2015 – Tuberculosis (TB) now ranks alongside HIV as the world’s most deadly infectious disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
And while the number of TB cases has fallen by 18 percent since 2000, the curable infection now kills as least as many every year as the AIDS virus.
According to the WHO, TB killed 1.5 million people in 2014, about the same as in 2013. The total death toll from HIV in 2014 was estimated at 1.2 million, which included 400,000 TB deaths among HIV-positive people.
The estimates for deaths from HIV and TB both include the same 400,000 people, making it difficult to say which infection killed more.
AIDS is nevertheless caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which damages the immune system, making infected people more susceptible to TB.
HIV cannot be cured, but a careful regimen of antibiotics can cure all but the most extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.
“Effective diagnosis and treatment saved 43 million lives between 2000 and 2015. Worldwide, TB incidence has fallen 1.5 percent per year since 2000, for a total reduction of 18 percent,” the WHO said.
The WHO, nevertheless, noted that the TB figures were unacceptable for a disease that could be cured.
“We are still facing a burden of 4,400 people dying every day, 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 Programme.
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Deaths from HIV/Aids have been falling rapidly because of improved access to anti-retroviral drugs.
Dr Raviglione believes that if the international investment in TB matched that of HIV, then “we could have accelerated the decline in mortality.”
WHO director-general Margaret Chan agreed, saying that there had been “tremendous impact” since 1990, but “if the world is to end this epidemic, it needs to scale up services and, critically, invest in research.”
The WHO says US$1.3 billion is needed for research on new tests, drugs and vaccines against TB, and US$1.4 billion is needed for existing drugs and treatments.
“A primary reason for detection and treatment gaps is a major shortfall in funding,” said Dr Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV, TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases.
WHO noted that this year’s report describes higher global totals for new TB cases (9.6 million) than in previous years.
“However, these figures reflect increased and improved national data and in-depth studies rather than any increase in the spread of the disease. More than half of the world’s TB cases (54 percent) occurred in China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan,” the report continued.
“Among new cases, an estimated 3.3 percent have multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), a level that has remained unchanged in recent years.”
The danger of tuberculosis becoming resistant to antibiotics is also highlighted in the report.
Dr Grania Brigden, from Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it was “yet another year of disheartening statistics” that should serve as a wake-up call.
“We’re losing ground in the battle to control drug-resistant forms of TB, and without considerable corrective action, the vast majority of people with multi-drug resistant TB won’t ever be diagnosed, put on treatment, or cured,” Dr Brigden noted.
The World Health Organization aims to cut tuberculosis deaths by 90 percent by 2030 via its End TB Strategy to commence next year.