The clock is ticking!
Even though tuberculosis (TB) – formerly often referred to as consumption – has plagued mankind for centuries, its causative agent was only identified 140 years ago. On March 24, 1882, the German physician, microbiologist and hygienist Robert Koch scientifically described the tuberculosis bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) for the first time. The discovery of the pathogen is thus celebrating its 140th anniversary this year on March 24 – World Tuberculosis Day. Every year on this day, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Stop TB Partnership want to raise awareness of the health, social and economic impact of TB and call for a common fight against the disease.
What is tuberculosis and what makes the disease so dangerous?
TB is a highly contagious infectious disease primarily affecting the lungs that is mainly transmitted by droplets and aerosols. TB particularly affects people in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Western Pacific region and the Eastern Mediterranean, while it is much less common in the Americas and Europe. However, only those infected are contagious in which the infection leads to an active disease. Factors such as poverty, malnutrition, HIV infection, smoking and diabetes favor the outbreak of the disease, because people with a weakened immune system are less able to keep the pathogen at bay. Despite drug treatment options, TB remains one of the most common and deadliest infectious diseases worldwide. This is due, among other things, to the fact that many of the infected people who require treatment are not treated. In addition, antibiotic resistances are making treatment increasingly difficult.
More tuberculosis deaths in 2020 than in previous years due to COVID-19 pandemic
The WHO estimates that almost 10 million people are newly diagnosed with TB every year. But while deaths have been falling since 2015, they rose again for the first time in 2020 – from around 1.4 million in 2019 to around 1.5 million in 2020. This means that around three people die every minute as a result of the terrible disease. The WHO cites the pandemic-related disruption in healthcare as the main reason for the increase, which meant that only 5.8 million people were officially diagnosed with TB in 2020 – 1.3 million fewer than in the previous year. The fact that the lower diagnosis rate inevitably leads to undertreatment is particularly tragic in light of the fact that TB – recognized in time – could be successfully treated with medication in 85% of all patients. However, this requires funds for TB programs, which had been redistributed in many places due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were therefore lacking.
The clock is ticking: investments urgently needed to end TB and save lives!
Global efforts to fight TB have saved an estimated 66 million lives over the past two decades. With the motto “Invest to end TB. Save lives” of this year’s World Tuberculosis Day, the WHO urges the global community not to allow the COVID-19 pandemic to reverse these advances. It is now in the hands of political leaders to recognize this urgency, invest resources and re-intensify the fight against the disease. In 2014 and 2015, all member states of the WHO and the United Nations jointly committed themselves to the global goal of ending TB. It is now a matter of fulfilling the obligations, defined as milestones. In addition to investing in research, this also includes fighting poverty and hunger, which promote both the outbreak of the disease and deaths.
We think this is reason enough to utilize the day of action in order to raise awareness of the disease as well as how to fight and prevent it. Since TB is mainly transmitted by droplets and aerosols, good cough etiquette – i.e., coughing into the hand or elbow followed by hand hygiene – is of great importance in order to reduce the spread of contaminated respiratory secretions. You too can help break the chain of infection with proper hand hygiene. Share your commitment against TB using the hashtags #WorldTuberculosisDay, #MissionInfectionPrevention und #HandHygiene! You can also find campaign materials, such as infographics and web banners, on the campaign website that you can use for your actions.
- World Health Organization. Global Tuberculosis Report 2021. (last reviewed on Februar 22, 2022)
- Robert Koch Institute. RKI-Ratgeber Tuberkulose [RKI (Robert Koch Institute) guide on tuberculosis]. As at: February 21, 2013.
- Federal Ministry of Health. Mycobacterium tuberculosis– Stellungnahmen des Arbeitskreises Blut des Bundesministeriums für Gesundheit [Mycobacterium tuberculosis – statements from the Blood Working Gorup of the Federal Ministry of Health]. Bundesgesundheitsbl 2018; 61: 100–115. (last reviewed on Februar 22, 2022)
- World Health Organization. WHO guidelines on tuberculosis infection prevention and control: 2019 update. (last reviewed on Februar 22, 2022)