Tuberculosis on the Retreat…For the First Time Ever

More evidence that recent interventions in global health are working. From the World Health Organization:

WHO reports for the first time that the number of people falling ill with tuberculosis (TB) each year is declining. New data, published today in the WHO 2011 global tuberculosis control report, also show that the number of people dying from the disease fell to its lowest level in a decade.

The new report finds:

  • the number of people who fell ill with TB dropped to 8.8 million in 2010, after peaking at nine million in 2005;
  • TB deaths fell to 1.4 million in 2010, after reaching 1.8 million in 2003;
  • the TB death rate dropped 40% between 1990 and 2010, and all regions, except Africa, are on track to achieve a 50% decline in mortality by 2015;
  • in 2009, 87% of patients treated were cured, with 46 million people successfully treated and seven million lives saved since 1995. However, a third of estimated TB cases worldwide are not notified and therefore it is unknown whether they have been diagnosed and properly treated.


“In many countries, strong leadership and domestic financing, with robust donor support, has started to make a real difference in the fight against TB,” said WHO’s Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. “The challenge now is to build on that commitment, to increase the global effort – and to pay particular attention to the growing threat of multidrug-resistant TB.”

Among these countries are Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania. In these African countries, the burden of TB is estimated to have been declining for much of the last decade after a peak linked to the HIV epidemic. Brazil has reported a significant and sustained decline in its TB burden since 1990. In China the progress has been dramatic. Between 1990 and 2010, China’s TB death rate fell by almost 80%, with deaths falling from 216 000 in 1990, to 55 000 in 2010. In the same period, TB prevalence halved, from 215 to 108 per 100 000 population.

Worldwide, the share of domestic funding allocated to TB rose to 86% for 2012. But most low income countries still rely heavily on external funding. Overall, countries have reported a funding shortfall of US$ 1 billion for TB implementation in 2012.

The short story is that a terrible global scourge is finally on the decline. The only problem is that the global economic downturn is forcing many traditional donors to reduce the amount that they are spending on foreign aid and global health.  These gains might only be temporary should sweeping cuts be enacted.