Friday 24 March is World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, marked across the world to increase public awareness of the disease and to push for improved and faster progress to end the TB epidemic by 2030.  Tuberculosis is a deadly infectious disease that has been around for thousands of years, causing a devastating effect on individuals and communities.  Despite TB being preventable and curable, in 2021 there were 1.6 million deaths from TB (an increase from 1.5 million in 2020). 
 
As the number of people living with and dying from TB continues to increase, it is important to highlight that TB is a disease of inequality. TB disproportionately affects people marginalised by: poverty, mental health conditions, substance misuse, history of incarceration, homelessness, displacement, and living with (and being vulnerable to) HIV. TB can have far-reaching effects on a person’s life, including social, economic and cultural aspects, and can make people more vulnerable, threatening their rights and leading to stigma and discrimination.
 
Caroline Mburu is a TB champion and advocate who recently shared her story of surviving TB with us. Caroline spoke of the time taken to get an accurate diagnosis, seeing multiple healthcare professionals while her symptoms continued to worsen, highlighting the lack of awareness of the disease among the health community. In addition to the physical symptoms and need for taking numerous medications with harsh side effects, there was another barrier to overcome – stigma. For Caroline and other TB survivors, the stigma and discrimination associated with TB is sometimes more challenging to overcome than the physical effects of the disease. 

“It's not really that easy to get people to talk about [TB], but I think I really just needed to tell my story so that everyone can relate so that they can know it's curable, so that they can know it's treatable.” - Caroline Mburu,  speech bubble from a circular selfie of Caroline, a black woman with braids smiling
Caroline Mburu, TB survivor and advocate, who spoke at our March grassroots conference call

Steady progress has been made in reducing the TB burden in the last two decades. Globally, the death rates for TB fell between 2005 and 2019, and the number of people diagnosed with TB increased, with the biggest gains seen between 2017 and 2019. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a large global fall in the number of people diagnosed with TB – pushing progress back by 12 years.

Despite the progress that has been made in reducing the TB burden over the years, TB requires more investment in better preventative approaches, shorter drug regimens with less toxic side-effects, and an effective vaccine.  The current BCG vaccine for TB only protects against some forms of the disease in children and is ineffective against the deadlier forms of TB in adults. The slow progress in researching and developing new tools and drugs to prevent, diagnose and treat TB is only part of the challenge. The lack of political will and financial investment to prioritise TB, address living conditions, improve access to healthcare services and improve people’s economic opportunity and inequality is further exacerbating the TB epidemic.

Yes we can End TB! World TB Day, 24 March. Collage of smiling people with their thumbs up, with a red background. Main text: By ensuring world leaders endorse an ambitious political declaration at the 2023 UNHLM on TB. #YesWeCanEndTB #WorldTBDay Stop TB Partnership hosted by UNops

With all the challenges that TB presents, 2023 is a year of opportunity and hope. This year, in September, the United Nations will hold the second ever High-Level Meeting on TB (the first being held in 2018). The meeting will convene political leaders, governments, heads of state and government, civil society and the private sector to discuss and review the progress made on TB since 2018, and what further progress needs to happen to achieve the reality of ending TB by 2030.  This will be a crucial moment for the TB community, as commitments made in this forum will translate to country-level plans and influence the allocation of resources to accelerate progress towards ending TB.

This World TB Day, there is an urgent need to raise the profile and impetus to action to end TB. There is strength and power in the global solidarity of the TB community, pressing governments and political leaders to take action and increase investment and resourcing to end TB. Only by the collective efforts and leadership across governments, civil society, affected communities and the private sector can we end the TB epidemic. To get involved with the fight to #EndTB, check out our campaign guide and action materials for suggestions and guidance for taking action ahead of the UN High-Level meeting.  Can we end TB by 2030? In the spirit of the Stop TB Partnership’s World TB Day message, yes we can!