The United Nations has called for a change of tack in fighting tuberculosis if the world is to end the epidemic by 2030.
This comes in the wake of newer challenges in fighting the disease, such as multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, where even the most powerful drugs are rendered ineffective.
Experts say winning the fight against tuberculosis requires that “social drivers” of the disease – especially poverty and inequality – are tackled head-on.
Also key are greater efforts to provide universal health coverage and combat the growing threat of anti-microbial resistance.
Speaking at an interactive civil society dialogue on tuberculosis with civil society groups last week, President of the UN General Assembly Misrolav Lajcak said that more research and development of new drugs and treatments is needed.
“We need more funding; we need universal access to diagnosis and coverage and we need partnerships and accountability from all stakeholders,” he said.
While acknowledging that knowledge of the disease and the factors that complicate treatment has improved, Mr Lajcak stressed that the world cannot stop at ‘just knowing’.
Though treatable and curable, tuberculosis kills more than 4,500 people every day and half of the cases go undiagnosed.
Currently, some 14 million people suffer from tuberculosis worldwide, with four million of them undiagnosed.
The dialogue is part of preparations for a high-level meeting on tuberculosis to be held in September, with heads of state in attendance.
It is a follow-up to the ministerial conference on ending tuberculosis held in Moscow last November, where commitments were made by ministers and leaders from 120 countries. Estimates show that the disease will cost the global economy about a trillion dollars by 2030 and that developing countries faced a funding gap of $2.3 billion in 2017.
“Universal healthcare provides an ideal umbrella to build cohesion across the global health landscape, on financing, programming and accountability,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, urging leaders to use the meetings to inform new ways of thinking and working, to lift tuberculosis out of its traditional silo.
In Kenya, tuberculosis is the fourth leading cause of death, having killed 9,081 people, double the number that died from the disease (4,735) in 2016, according to the Economic Survey 2018. Further, the National Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey of 2015 showed that 558 people out of every 100,000 are infected, with about 138,105 new infections every year. Some 40 per cent of tuberculosis cases remain undiagnosed and untreated. Men in the 25 to 34 age group bear the highest burden of tuberculosis with a prevalence of 972 per 100,000 people, while in women those over age 65 account for the highest numbers. More than 83 per cent of tuberculosis patients are HIV-negative, one out of four do not have any symptoms and three out of four of those with symptoms do not seek healthcare.