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TB to overtake COVID-19 as leading infectious killer globally

As tuberculosis deaths continue rising for the first time in more than a decade, there are calls for global leaders to increase investment for prevention, treatment and vaccines.

This World Tuberculosis Day highlights the entirely achievable proposition of ending TB globally by 2030 with sufficient investment.

About 1.6 million people died from TB in 2021 – claiming 4,300 lives a day, including the lives of 600 children.

Experts are predicting TB will once again become the world’s biggest infectious disease killer. This week, The Global Fund’s executive director said tuberculosis will likely kill more people in low and middle income countries in 2023 than COVID-19.

To end tuberculosis by 2030, major technological breakthroughs, including a new vaccine, must be introduced by 2025.

The only vaccination for TB is more than a century old, and is less effective on adults, who account for the bulk of disease burden.

Results International (Australia) CEO Negaya Chorley said:

“Tuberculosis is a prolific infectious disease that devastates the most vulnerable, including in our own backyard. Just this month, a TB outbreak was reported in the APY Lands. Our neighbour PNG sees thousands of people die annually,” Ms Chorley said.

“The progress we were making in reducing TB cases and deaths over the years has been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as TB infections have gone undetected and unmanaged. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, TB deaths are on the rise.

“TB could soon reclaim the title of leading cause of death worldwide from a single infectious agent. Yet, the disease is entirely preventable and curable.

“The same global concerted momentum to tackle COVID-19 must be applied to ending TB. We need to use all the tools in the toolbox including scaling up prevention, treatment and cure.

“An effective new vaccine would save millions of lives and help fight antimicrobial resistance, while also offering a substantial return on investment.

“Australia must play a greater role in ending TB. Given the Asia Pacific region is home to the majority of TB cases, and the cutting edge scientific research that takes place in universities and institutes across the country, we are well placed to lead the charge in addressing TB.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we have the scientific capability and know how to  tackle infectious diseases including TB – we just need the will.

“This September, world leaders will gather in New York for the UN High-Level Meeting on TB. We are calling on the Australian Government to encourage world leaders to set ambitious targets to eliminate TB and back it up with adequate financing.

“If we don’t increase our efforts and investment in TB, the cost in terms of human lives will be immense.”

Key facts and figures:

  • The latest statistics show about 1.6 million people died from TB globally in 2021.
  • TB treatment saved 74 million lives globally between 2000 and 2021.
  • Just US$120 million was spent on TB vaccine research and development in 2021. This is a small fraction of the global spend on COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Every US$1 invested in vaccine interventions will return US$7 in health and economic benefits over 25 years.
  • Maintaining current funding levels will see an additional 43 million people falling ill and 6.6 million die from TB by 2030. There will be US$1 trillion in economic losses as a result of TB morbidity and mortality.
  • The targets for 2030 are a 90% reduction in the number of TB deaths and an 80% reduction in the TB incidence rate.
  • Annual research funding must increase fivefold from US$1 billion to US$5 billion dollars to reach the 2023-30 Global Plan funding targets.
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