Forum of International Respiratory Societies calls to advance prevention as critical strategy to end TB

Tuesday 24 March 2020 marks 138 years since Dr Robert Koch announced his discovery of the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way towards diagnosing, treating and curing TB.

Despite this breakthrough more than 100 years ago, TB remains the leading infectious disease killer worldwide. In 2018 alone, a total of 10 million people fell ill with TB, and of those 1.5 million died in 2018 alone, according to the World Health Organization’s 2019 Global TB Report.

In support of this World TB Day, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), of which The Union is a founding member, urges governments to promote tuberculosis (TB) prevention as a critical component of TB elimination.

Prevention is also a critical element in public health responses more broadly. As the world works to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, preventing transmission is key to tackling this new infectious respiratory disease.

Despite significant progress against TB in recent years, many people struggle to receive the treatment and care they need for reasons ranging from gaps in research and development and underfunded health services, to long and difficult treatments or because of stigma. In addition, a quarter of the world’s population is estimated to be living with TB infection, the bacteria that causes the disease. People with TB infection are estimated to have a 5-10 percent chance of developing the disease over their lifetime. TB preventive therapy reduces a person’s risk of developing active TB by 60 to 90 percent.

FIRS and The Union, call for urgent action globally to advance TB prevention through the rapid scale up of access to preventive treatment for TB infection for those most at risk of falling ill of TB including:

  • Four million children under five years of age.
  • 20 million other household contacts of people affected by TB.
  • Six million people living with HIV and AIDS.

“Globally, we are falling short of targets”, said Dr Grania Brigden, Director of the TB Department, The Union. “Only 27 percent of children who were eligible for preventive treatment in 2018 actually received it, and 49 percent of people newly enrolled in HIV treatment received TB preventive treatment.”

Dr Grania Brigden concludes, “This is an area which has long been neglected. By offering preventive therapies to those who need it we are not only preventing them from experiencing the long treatments for TB but we are also preventing future lung damage and ensuring people and their families can remain TB free.”