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As a New Pandemic Spreads, World TB Day Reminds us of Unfinished Business

In the midst of the new global health threat posed by COVID-19, this World TB Day reminds us that global efforts to control the world’s leading infectious disease killer must be accelerated to rid us of our oldest pandemic. Although tuberculosis is both preventable and curable, more than 10 million people developed active tuberculosis disease in 2019, and an estimated 4,000 people died from the disease each day. Tuberculosis remains the leading killer of people living with HIV, while the continued spread of drug-resistant forms of TB threatens to reverse the progress made against the epidemic over the last century.

History has shown that ongoing disease-fighting efforts suffer during new global health emergencies. History also has shown that the most effective public health measures work together and respond to conditions that allow infections to thrive.

Tuberculosis patients and survivors are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its effects, and countries with the highest  burdens of the disease are also home to populations with the most limited access to health care. The populations most vulnerable to tuberculosis, including people living with HIV, prisoners, migrants and people living in poverty are also those for whom COVID-19 testing may lie out of reach, allowing the new coronavirus to spread unnoticed.

Continued U.S. leadership of global tuberculosis responses is more critical than ever. Funding that meets the needs for research and development toward better or shorter treatments, point-of-care diagnostic tests, and an effective vaccine, and that ensures existing tools and treatments are accessible will also lay a foundation for greater health security. We can’t hope to win our battles against the pandemics to come if we surrender this battle.

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