March 24 marks World Tuberculosis Day, with this year's event focusing on the World Health Organization's (WHO) End TB Strategy, which launched in 2015.
What is World Tuberculosis Day?
World Tuberculosis Day is an annual event. It occurs on March 24 to mark the day Dr Robert Koch announced the discovery of TB bacillus, the cause of tuberculosis, in 1882. Koch's discover and announcement paved the way for diagnosing, treating, and curing tuberculosis, which in the late 19th century was responsible for one in seven deaths in Europe and the Americas.
While Dr Koch's initial announcement was specific to tuberculosis, his discovery helped change human attitudes towards research and treatment of all virulent diseases. This would immediately lead to better patient outcomes for many illnesses, with things still evolving and improving today.
World Tuberculosis Day was first suggested by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD) in 1982, on the 100th anniversary of Dr Koch’s announcement. During that year, the IUATLD and the WHO undertook a year-long campaign called “Defeat TB: Now and Forever.” That we’re still talking about goals for ending tuberculosis nearly 40 years later highlights how challenging a journey this has been!
Despite 1982’s campaign, World Tuberculosis Day didn’t become an officially recognised health awareness event until the middle of the 1990s!
How common is tuberculosis?
If you live in a high-income nation, then tuberculosis is probably a condition seen as rare. Such are the low levels of tuberculosis prevalence and perceived risk that many high-income countries, including the United Kingdom, no longer offer tuberculosis vaccinations as part of their national health programs. When tuberculosis infections do occur in these nations, they're typically mild. Patients can be treated with antibiotics for around six months while living largely as normal.
However, as with many conditions, the situation in low and middle-income nations is somewhat different. The below statistics paint a stark picture of how common tuberculosis remains worldwide. According to the WHO:
- Approximately 28,000 people per day (10 million per year) become ill with tuberculosis.
- 465,000 people each year fall ill with drug-resistant tuberculosis, which requires a more extended treatment period and has less favourable patient outcomes.
- Nearly 4,000 people per day (1.4 million per year) die from tuberculosis or tuberculosis related complications.
Despite these sobering statistics, we should also note that global campaigns led by the WHO and other stakeholders are estimated to have saved over 63 million lives this century.
What does 2021’s theme “The Clock is Ticking” mean?
The theme of this year’s World Tuberculosis Day is “The Clock is Ticking.” The idea behind this theme is to put across the sense that the global community is running out of time to fulfil commitments made as part of the End TB Strategy.
As with so many global health initiatives over the past year, there is grave concern that the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has put the End TB Strategy at risk.
Recent research published by the Stop TB Partnership suggests 12 years of progress in the fight to end tuberculosis have been lost due to the pandemic. The past year has also seen a 20% drop off seen in diagnosis and treatment.
The WHO hopes to use this year's World Tuberculosis Day to refocus on the strategy, which runs in line with the WHO’s ongoing drive towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.
What global commitments have been made to tackling tuberculosis?
On World Tuberculosis Day 2021, the WHO calls on the global community to keep five promises towards eradicating the disease.
- Accelerating the End TB Response to meet targets set in the End TB Strategy, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, 2017’s Moscow Declaration to End TB, and 2018’s United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending TB.
- Diagnosis and treatment of 40 million tuberculosis patients by 2022, including 3.5 million children and 1.5 million patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis. This initiative is part of the WHO's drive towards achieving Universal Health Coverage, and joint initiatives run alongside The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Stop TB Partnership.
- Delivering preventive treatment to 30 million of the most at-risk people by 2022, including 24 million household members of tuberculosis patients, six million people living with HIV, and four million children under the age of five.
- Achieving sustainable financing of $13 billion annually to support efforts to end tuberculosis worldwide. Copenhagen Consensus Center research highlights that each $1 invested in programs to end tuberculosis returns $43 in economic and societal benefits.
- Boosting investment specifically in tuberculosis research to $2 billion annually to help build better science facilities, better diagnosis and treatment tools, and better delivery of treatment for patients worldwide.
How to get involved with World Tuberculosis Day
While the continuation of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic mean in-person events and conferences aren't taking place this year, the WHO is delivering a live virtual talk show on March 24 at 13:00 Central European Time.
Interested individuals can take part using Zoom – get the link from the WHO’s World TB Day 2021 page. There will be opportunities throughout the event for the online audience to ask questions of the speakers.
If you’re reading this article after World Tuberculosis Day 2021, you can find the video on the WHO’s YouTube channel.