About tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the oldest known diseases. An airborne infection that most often affects the lungs, TB was known as “the White Plague” in the 19th century because of its devastating death toll. 

Prof Robert Koch of Berlin identified the bacterium that causes TB in 1882. About 1/3 of the world's population are infected with M. tuberculosis, but most healthy people will never become ill.  In 2011, 8.7 million people developed active TB and 1.4 million died, according to the World Health Organization. Some 80% of TB cases now occur in 22 low- and middle-income countries, but TB is found in every part of the world.  

Since the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940s, TB has been curable and preventable. However, inappropriate or incomplete treatment as well as inadequate TB control, have led to an increase in multidrug-resistant (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR-TB) strains of TB. These forms of the disease, which are much harder and more expensive to treat than drug-sensitive TB, have less successful treatment outcomes.

 Initial gains in TB control were lost when the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s. People with compromised immune systems are very susceptible to opportunistic infections such as TB, and TB is the leading cause of death among people with HIV today.  Recent research has shown that the world’s 371 million people with diabetes also have two-three times greater chance of developing active TB, posing a new potential challenge to TB control.