To mark World TB Day, I organised with the APPG on Global TB for a TB Find&Treat van to visit Parliament to raise awareness of TB among MPs and Peers. We have also led an unprecedented demonstration of support for a single global health issue, with over 150 parliamentary representatives from across the G7 and the European Parliament releasing a statement calling for a renewed global commitment to “drive down rates of TB across the world and to accelerate progress towards ending TB as a threat to global public health.”
Every year, TB kills 1.3 million people. Long considered eradicated in the West, it remains a threat to public health all around the world. Although the burden is heaviest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, nearly every country in the world has cases of TB. Far from reducing rates of the disease, some leading economies like the UK have in fact seen increases in rates since the turn of the century. Ealing Southall, has the second highest rates of TB in the country.
Of particular concern is the development of drug-resistant TB, some strains of which are practically impossible to treat. Globally, fewer than 10% of all multi-drug resistant TB patients are cured of the disease. If we do not act to eliminate TB, if the spread of DR-TB is allowed to continue unabated, patients, families and health systems all around the world will struggle to deal with the costs.
The global response to TB has, so far, struggled with chronically low levels of funding. The pinch is felt particularly in regards to R&D, where an annual estimated funding gap of over $1.3bn is hampering efforts to develop much needed new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines for TB.
Of course, as new drugs are developed, enormous challenges remain in ensuring that all TB patients have access to them. This year, 3 million people – a third of all new TB cases – will be “missed” by health systems. Some will not be diagnosed, some will not be treated, some will access health services but with no guarantee of receiving the right care.
The ‘3 million missing’ has barely changed for 7 years and is the theme of this year’s World TB Day. Every single missed case of TB should be treated as a huge mistake, TB is an infectious disease. A single, untreated person can spread the disease to 15 other people each year. We need to do more, as a global community, to tackle the disease.
Leading civil society figures agree. Aaron Oxley, Executive Director of RESULTS UK, says: “The latest numbers paint a picture of an increasingly deadly, increasingly costly, and increasingly global disease that crosses borders and seeks out the vulnerable and marginalised wherever they live. This statement shows that the G7 is beginning to show the leadership we need, but political leadership must be followed by global action if we are going to beat tuberculosis.”
Although the UK All Party Parliamentary Group led the project, the goodwill shown by parliamentarians around the world has been remarkable. I’ve really been surprised by the amount of support for this statement all around the world. If we can continue this collaborative approach to tackling the disease, I’m confident that we can, as the statement says, be the generation that ends TB.