March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day. The date commemorates Dr. Robert Koch's 1882 discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes the disease. The observance is an opportunity to build public awareness of one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases.
Tuberculosis, or TB, has plagued humans for thousands of years. The bacterium that causes it is believed to have evolved along with people and it is still evolving. Today, TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Every day, more than 4100 people die of TB and nearly 28,000 people fall ill with it, even though TB is a preventable and curable illness. That’s because most TB deaths occur in the developing world, where the disease is closely linked to poverty and marginalization, and access to diagnosis and effective treatment may not be reliable.
Still, in the two decades between 2000 and 2020, global efforts to eliminate TB have saved some 66 million lives. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the progress. As the new virus overwhelmed healthcare systems in 2020, countries were unable to provide TB diagnosis and treatment. As a result, in 2020, for the first time in a decade, deaths from TB increased.
This year’s World TB Day theme is “Invest to End TB. Save Lives.” This is especially critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic regression. By increasing investment into fighting TB, we can help ensure equitable access to prevention and care and save millions more lives and accelerate the end of the TB epidemic.
The United States is committed to fighting tuberculosis. The U.S government is the largest single donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, delivering 21 billion dollars between 2000 and 2021. In focusing our efforts in countries where the burden of TB is highest, we support programs that save lives, improve access to health services for everyone, drive the fight against TB forward.
We urge our friends and allies to follow our example and donate generously. By joining in the global commitment to stop the spread of TB, and by continuing to invest, we can achieve a world free from TB.