Tuberculosis Response: Recovering from Pandemic but Accelerated Efforts Needed to Meet New Targets

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its 2023 Global Tuberculosis (TB) report, highlighting a significant global recovery in the scale-up of TB diagnosis and treatment services in 2022. This marks an encouraging trend, gradually reversing the detrimental effects of COVID-19 disruptions on TB services, underscoring the importance of ongoing efforts in the fight against this infectious disease.

The report features data collected from 192 countries and regions, revealing that in 2022, a record-breaking 7.5 million people were diagnosed with TB. This marks the highest figure recorded since WHO began global TB monitoring in 1995. The increase is attributed to significant recovery in access to and provision of health services in numerous countries. Notably, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, which collectively accounted for over 60% of the global reductions in newly diagnosed tuberculosis cases in 2020 and 2021, made a remarkable recovery in 2022, surpassing the 2019 levels.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized the historic opportunity the world now has to tackle TB. He stated, “Today, we have knowledge and tools they could only have dreamed of. We have political commitment, and we have an opportunity that no generation in the history of humanity has had: the opportunity to write the final chapter in the story of TB.”

Globally, an estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis in 2022, up from 10.3 million in 2021. Geographically, most tuberculosis cases in 2022 were concentrated in the WHO Regions of South-East Asia (46%), Africa (23%), and the Western Pacific (18%). Smaller proportions were reported in the Eastern Mediterranean (8.1%), the Americas (3.1%), and Europe (2.2%).

The total number of tuberculosis-related deaths, including those among people with HIV, decreased to 1.3 million in 2022, down from 1.4 million in 2021. However, the period from 2020 to 2022 witnessed nearly half a million additional deaths due to tuberculosis because of disruptions caused by COVID-19. TB remains the leading cause of death among people with HIV.

Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) continues to pose a significant public health crisis. An estimated 410,000 people developed multidrug-resistant or rifampicin-resistant TB (MDR/RR-TB) in 2022, yet only about two in five of them accessed treatment.

The report acknowledges the progress in developing new TB diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines but highlights the need for increased investment in these areas. Although global efforts have saved over 75 million lives since 2000, there is still much work to be done. While 2022 saw significant recovery, it was insufficient to meet the global TB targets set in 2018. Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflicts contributed to this shortfall.

The 2023 UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on TB reinforced the 2018 commitments and set new targets for the period of 2023-2027. These targets include reaching 90% of people in need with TB prevention and care services, using a WHO-recommended rapid test as the primary method for diagnosing TB, providing comprehensive health and social benefits to all tuberculosis patients, ensuring the availability of a safe and effective new tuberculosis vaccine, and closing funding gaps for TB implementation and research by 2027.

Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme, emphasized the importance of global cooperation to combat TB effectively. She stated, “We need all hands on deck to make the vision of ending TB a reality.” The report underlines the need for concerted action across various sectors to address the social, environmental, and economic determinants of tuberculosis and the consequences of inaction.

The 2023 Global TB Report reflects both the progress made in the battle against tuberculosis and the challenges that lie ahead. While there is reason for optimism, accelerated efforts and international cooperation are essential to meet the new targets set by the UN and finally eradicate this ancient and deadly disease. Ending the global TB epidemic requires translating commitments into real action, changing lives and livelihoods in communities worldwide.

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