Tuberculosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs, is one of the world's deadliest diseases. After decades of progress, TB cases are on the rise once more. As World TB Day is marked on Friday March 24, there are hopes a vaccine may be developed in the next few years to help eradicate the disease.
TB killed 1.6 million people last year. Progress against tackling the disease was set back significantly by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, an organization hosted and administered by the United Nations in Geneva.
'We lost many years of effort because of COVID -- because of the lockdown, because of the fact that actually the response to COVID was constructed a lot on the work, on the equipment, on the hospitals and dispensaries or on the staff that worked for TB. A lot of them were completely shifted to deal with COVID,' Ditiu told VOA.
Doctors say that has led to rising numbers of people with untreated and undiagnosed tuberculosis.
India has the highest number of cases, with more than half a million TB deaths in 2021, about a third of the global total.
There is hope that the disease can be overcome this decade. India diagnosed and treated 2.4 million people with TB in 2022, the highest ever in any year. The Stop TB Partnership says several other countries have also made significant progress against the disease.
'Some of them by doing TB and COVID tests at the same time; some of them doing a very aggressive campaign of going door to door to find people [with TB]; some of them putting in place the call centers or community workers to go to. ... India Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Brazil, all did very well in 2022 in terms of finding people with TB,' Ditiu told VOA.
FILE - A baby receives the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine for tuberculosis during a national immunization for children program at an integrated services post in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on June 9, 2022.
World TB Day on March 24 marks the anniversary of German doctor Robert Koch's discovery in 1882 of the bacterium that causes the disease.
This year, the theme is 'Yes! We Can End TB.' India has set a target to effectively eradicate tuberculosis by 2025. The Stop TB Partnership is holding a summit in Varanasi, India, to highlight what it describes as 'ground-breaking high-level political support,' new innovations and achievements to end tuberculosis in the lead-up to the September 22 second U.N. High-Level Meeting on TB.
The World Health Organization has set a global target of eradicating TB by 2030, primarily through diagnosis, treatment and the development of a vaccine.
'When you put together the fact that we have more political commitment, that we have a lot of new tools that we didn't have before, that we have the prospect of a vaccine to come in the next two, three years -- and we have an amazing civil society and community platform and networks -- it's actually giving us a lot of hope that we can end TB,' Ditiu said.
However, that will require more money: an estimated $230 billion over the next eight years. While the funding has yet to be agreed, Ditiu remains hopeful.
'We are pretty convinced that the world will try to end TB and will try to be as bold as it was during COVID. Because for COVID, for the COVID vaccine, $100 billion were found more or less like that,' she told VOA.
Tuberculosis is more prevalent and deadly in poorer countries. Scientists say a lack of commercial opportunity has hindered research and development into new TB medicines but development of a new vaccine would save millions of lives.