World Tuberculosis Day 2021: The Clock Is Ticking

Today is World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, which is recognized on March 24 each year. The date marks the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced his discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacillus that causes TB. The first World TB Day was held one century later – in 1982.

World TB Day serves to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social, and economic consequences of TB as well as to step up efforts to end the global TB epidemic.

The World TB Day 2021 Theme

This year’s World TB Day theme, ‘The Clock Is Ticking’, was selected by the Stop TB Partnership. The theme aims to convey that the world is running out of time to reach the goals set by global leaders in 2018 at the first High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNHLM) on TB. At the meeting, the UN Member States committed to, among other things:

  • Treat 40 million people with TB from 2018 to 2022,
  • Ensure that at least 30 million people receive preventive treatment by 2022,
  • Increase overall global investments for ending TB, and reach at least US$ 13 billion a year by 2022, and
  • Overcome the global public health crisis of multidrug-resistant TB.

In a 2020 report entitled “Progress towards achieving global tuberculosis targets and implementation of the UN Political Declaration on Tuberculosis,” the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that the world is far behind on reaching the UNHLM targets (a summary of the report was published on the PredictTB website).

The WHO’s report showed that urgent and more ambitious investments and actions are required to put the world on track to reach targets, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB 

The pandemic has severely disrupted TB responses in low- and middle-income countries, stalling and reversing years of progress made against TB. The Stop TB Partnership released a data brief on March 18 this year, around one year after the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world on its head. According to the brief, nine of the countries with the most TB cases (representing 60% of the global TB burden) saw a drastic decline in diagnosis and treatment of TB infections in 2020, ranging from 16%-41% (with an average of 23%). The drop brought the overall number of people diagnosed and treated for TB in those countries to 2008 levels, a twelve-year setback.

With the data brief, the Stop TB Partnership calls for global investment in TB outreach and treatment as response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the brief calls upon global leaders to strategically prepare for future airborne pandemics. It proposes a number of approaches for prevention and care of airborne respiratory infections that could also benefit the fight against both COVID-19 and TB. The Stop TB Partnership underlines that such interventions should focus, at the minimum, on the following:

  • Implement massive community and primary health care level screening. People with a cough and fever should be tested for both TB and COVID-19, using the latest laboratory tests and imaging techniques, and contact tracing should be initiated.
  • Mobilize, create, develop, and support networks of TB survivors and TB communities so they can reach out, offer treatment and mental health support, work against stigma and fears, and mobilize people for contact tracing, diagnosis, and vaccinations.
  • Implement airborne infection prevention and control measures in all health care units and in congregation settings.
  • Implement real-time surveillance data with early warning systems for data-driven and agile public-health decision making.

More information about World TB Day can be found on the Stop TB Partnership’s website here.