Commemoration of World TB Day finds us at a promising but pivotal moment. Advances in diagnostic tools, medications, and treatment regimens are offering significant improvements to detect, treat and control tuberculosis. The U.S. National Action Plan for Combating Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis has established a path for international collaboration that tackles the most challenging forms of the disease. A $20 million increase directed to the U.S. Agency for International Development global tuberculosis program in the fiscal year 2018 spending bill is a step in the right direction after several years of proposed budget cuts and flat funding. In six months, a United Nations high-level meeting on tuberculosis will offer a collaborative forum for committing toward the goal of eliminating the infectious disease as a global public health threat within the next two decades.
However, challenges remain formidable. Tuberculosis remains widely prevalent as many people are unaware they harbor the infection and therefore go untreated. People who are especially prone to TB include children, people living with HIV, and people in resource-limited environments. The spread of drug-resistance threatens to reverse the progress made over the last 75 years since the discovery of effective antibiotic therapy for TB. Even now, tuberculosis – a curable disease since the middle of the last century – remains the leading infectious disease killer worldwide.
Continued U.S. leadership of TB global efforts will be essential. Robust funding is necessary to make strides in research and development of better or shorter treatments, point-of-care diagnostic tools, and an effective vaccine. Only through such measures will new cases be reduced and lives saved. Protecting future generations from the disease is best done now. World TB Day observes nearly a century and a half of scientific progress since the discovery of the tubercular bacterium. It is time to speed progress that will eliminate tuberculosis and its devastating consequences on patients, families, and countries.