Huge jump in TB deaths revealed by new data

WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2016 reveals the shocking news that more people are dying from TB each year than previously realised, up from 1.5 million deaths in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015. That’s one death from TB every 20 seconds. The majority of these deaths are among the 4.3 million people with TB that, according to the report, remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Better data collection and reporting methods, particularly in India which is home to over 20% of the world’s TB cases, has discovered that the global impact of TB has been seriously under-estimated. Over a million more people than previously thought are falling ill with TB each year – there were 10.4 million new cases in 2015. Of these, only 6.1 million were detected and officially notified in 2015. This means that 4.3 million people with TB either failed to reach help entirely, or were treated by unregulated – and most likely unqualified – private practitioners.

Even when people do reach appropriate services for diagnosis and treatment, the treatment gap remains unacceptably high. In 2015, just 20% of people with drug-resistant forms of TB received the correct medication to deal with their TB.

This important new understanding does disguise the fact that much good work has been done. Global TB deaths fell by 22% between 2000 and 2015, while efforts to respond to TB saved more than 3 million lives in 2015.

“The dismal progress in the TB response is a tragedy for the millions of people suffering from this disease. To save more lives now, we must get newly recommended rapid tests, drugs and regimens to those who need them. Current actions and investments fall far short of what is needed,” said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Global TB Programme. “The world is finally waking up to the threat of antimicrobial resistance – now is the time to accelerate the MDR-TB response.”

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