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The global impact of tuberculosis

As one of the world's biggest infectious illnesses, tuberculosis exacts a devastating toll on a global scale. The Global TB Report estimated that in 2022, 10.6 million people fell ill from TB and 1.3 million died.

The only other infectious disease with a higher mortality rate in recent years is COVID-19. 

Regions such as Africa, South and Southeast Asia continue to be most impacted by TB, and face challenges in curbing the spread of new infections.

Why is it that tuberculosis disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged nations?

Dr Peter Mugyenyi, an specialist on HIV/AIDS from Uganda, had this to say in relation to HIV in 2000. “Where are the drugs? The drugs are where the disease is not. And where is the disease? The disease is where the drugs are not.”

Due to insufficient resource allocation, limited political resolve and competing health priorities, governments have been unable to effectively address the persistent challenges of tuberculosis in low and middle income countries, resulting in high rates of infection, mortality and transmission. 

We must do more to reduce the impact of TB on low and middle-income countries. 

Across the world, people not only face the physical effects of TB but also social, economic, and psychological effects. Income loss and high healthcare costs make it difficult to obtain a diagnosis or treatment, especially with multidrug-resistant TB.

Our friends at Results UK released a report this month on how we need to address the social and economic complexities of TB and take an equity approach. We need to integrate healthcare within broader efforts to tackle poverty, inequality, stigma and the structural barriers that make health services hard to reach.

Facilities and systems for health in many low and middle income countries are also short on funding and resources. It is clear that tuberculosis has an extensive impact on the finances of individuals and governments.

In 2018, the Lancet found that TB stripped global economies of $476.5 billion.

Advocacy groups and the passion of global health organisations has got us this far. To move forward and end TB we need a concerted global effort to reduce the burden of tuberculosis on humanity.

There will always be other priorities in healthcare. For many people - particularly in wealthy countries, TB is not an immediate threat to our wellbeing. But TB remains a silent killer and an ongoing, deadly pandemic. We need sustained attention and investment to end TB.

Results Australia Global Health Fellow Pratyusha Athota

Pratyusha Athota is a 2024 Results Australia Global Health Fellow. She is currently undertaking a Bachelor of International Public Health at UNSW.


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