March 24th is observed around the globe as World Tuberculosis Day, commemorating the discovery in 1882 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause the disease. This year's theme is "On the Move to Eliminate Tuberculosis: Innovate to Accelerate Action.”
Tuberculosis is a killer that has plagued humans since the Neolithic Age 9,000 years ago. The bacterium that causes it is far older and is believed to have evolved along with people and it is still evolving.
Tuberculosis frequently affects the most vulnerable and marginalized. It is closely linked to substandard living conditions such as overcrowding, poor nutrition and other social determinants of health. Globally, roughly one of three people is infected, but only about ten percent of them develop the disease during their lifetime. Still, TB kills some five thousand people every day.
Tuberculosis is an airborne infectious disease that is preventable and curable. In most cases, it is can be successfully treated with an extended course of relatively inexpensive antibiotics. Nonetheless, antibiotic-resistant strains have emerged.
These drug resistant variants of the disease are much more difficult and costly to treat, and in some cases are untreatable with available antibiotics. Accelerated actions are needed to ramp up diagnostic and treatment services, and to develop and introduce better diagnostics and drugs to detect and treat the disease more easily.
Political commitment to eliminate the threat of tuberculosis is growing worldwide, and countries are increasing their investments in TB control. Through programs supported by the United States Agency for International Development and the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, TB control programs are being scaled up in numerous countries where the disease burden is the greatest. The U.S. is also making substantial financial contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by supporting grants for countries in need.
President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his support for defeating TB through the Global Health Initiative. The Initiative invests $63 billion over 6 years to support partner countries in their efforts to improve health outcomes and strengthen health systems.
The United States is deeply involved in the struggle to rid the world of this ancient and difficult enemy of the human race.