Today, Sunday, 24 March is World Tuberculosis Day. This is the second year of a 2-year “Stop TB in my lifetime” World TB Day campaign.
Despite all the work already put into eradicating the world of TB, it remains a killer or massive proportions – each day, 4000 people lose their lives to the airborne disease. What makes this number even more tragic is that TB is curable at a reasonably low cost, yet in many regions the fight against the disease remains grossly underfunded.
The international health target with regards to TB and HIV-associated TB is to halve the number of TB-related deaths by 2015, compared to 1990 levels. While some parts of the world are on track, the developing world lags behind, with TB-deaths in the African region still being particularly high. According to the World Health Organisation, about 600 000 people died from TB in Africa in 2011 – that is 40% of the global TB death toll. What makes this number significant is that the number of TB deaths in Africa is higher than that of Asia, despite Asia having much higher population numbers, and more TB cases. The difference is that TB in Asia can be more effectively treated thanks to better funding. One of the other problems in Africa is the high levels of TB/HIV co-infection, complicating the treatment regime.
In a potentially positive move, health leaders form the southern African regions (the epicentre of the TB/HIV epidemic in Africa) have come together to address the problem, and they have just released plans for a “1000 day push” to upscale the offensive against TB in Africa, including TB among people living with HIV.
“Armed with a package of new investments and initiatives worth more than US $120 million, the leaders signed the Swaziland Statement, committing them to accelerate progress against the two diseases in the next 1000 days and work with Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to achieve the international targets of cutting deaths from TB and HIV-associated TB by half by 2015, compared to 1990 levels.”
This is positive news for World TB Day, and we can only hope that, despite the African region’s dismal health record, some real good will come of this initiative, thus keeping alive the dream of eradicating TB in the lifetime of this generation.