Tuberculosis Day 2023 - Yes! We can end TB!
Since 1982, the World TB Day has been annually celebrated on March 24 of every year.
This date was chosen to commemorate the date in 1882, when Dr Robert Koch made known his discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis as the bacterium responsible for causing tuberculosis (TB).
The day is set aside to educate the public about the impact of TB around the world and to campaign to end it.
Dr Koch’s discovery announced in Berlin on March 24, 1882 was timely, since it was during the period that TB was spreading rapidly through Europe and the Americas, and causing the deaths of one out of every seven people.
It was that timely discovery that led to the proper diagnosis and cure of TB infected individuals.
TB is one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers.
It is transmitted through the air from infected persons to uninfected persons, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or spits, bacteria are released into the air, and thereafter, infects any person that inhales a handful of them.
About 10.6 million people fell ill with TB in 2021, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) out of which 1.6 million died.
In effect, about 30,000 people fall ill daily with TB and more than 4,000 of them lose their lives even though the disease is preventable and curable.
With concerted efforts at ending TB, about 74 million lives have since been saved from death.
For 2023, the theme of the World TB Day is “Yes! We can end TB!”
This is to conjunctively inspire hope and support high-level leadership, more investment, more rapid uptake of new WHO recommendations, innovations ratification, accelerated action, and multisectoral cooperation to fight the TB epidemic.
This year’s celebration is epochal because of the opportunities it presents to raise awareness and to sway high-level political allegiances to commit to ending TB during the 2023 UN High-Level Meeting on TB.
It is also expected that the WHO and partners will issue a clarion call to kick-start the new WHO-recommended shorter all-oral treatment regimens for drug-resistant TB, which are comparatively more efficacious, while improving drug compliance.
Investment, support, information
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict and socio-economic crises had in recent years significantly stalled the progress previously recorded in putting an end to TB.
WHO pinpointed in its latest Global Tuberculosis Report that TB incidences and deaths had increased, noting that it was the first time that had happened in a decade.
It, thus, becomes imperative that more investments are needed to catch up on the support needed for the rolling-out of WHO-recommended TB preventive treatment options, shorter TB treatment regimens, rapid molecular diagnostics and tests for TB infection, that WHO has earmarked to be essential in regaining positive momentum at ending the disease.
These should be done alongside other innovations and digital tools for the improvement in health outcomes and the saving of millions of lives.
This is also not to forget that investments in research and innovation will also be pivotal in hastening this journey geared towards ending TB.
Removing health inequalities
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the fore, the disparities that exist in health between and within countries.
More importantly, the marginalisation and vulnerability of people with TB became too glaring, during this time that they could no longer be ignored, hence, the reason why concerted efforts are needed to eliminate all barriers preventing TB patients from accessing care.
Poverty, undernourishment, poor living and working conditions etc. determine the onset of ill health.
They also play a significant role in people developing TB infections and how they will be able to cope with the demands of treatment (including social, financial and medical) and determine their health outcomes.
So, in addition to what the health system offers, firm political commitment at the highest level, sterling multisectoral synergy (outside health sector) and an effective accountability systems are consequential.
The adoption of “Yes! We can end TB!” as this year’s World TB Day theme is to remind ourselves that with our collaborative efforts, we can actually end TB by 2030, as part of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
This would be achievable if those affected with TB, communities and civil societies that are in the forefront of ending the disease are robustly more engaged.
All these should be in conjunction with getting access to new diagnostics easy, introducing more efficacious treatment regimens, making use of digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) for TB response.
The writer is a doctor specialising in Public Health.