By Vincess Okushi

The World Health Organization has urged countries to intensify commitments to ensure equitable access to TB care, and scaling up innovative interventions to eliminate the preventable disease.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti made the call in a message to commemorate this year’s World Tuberculosis Day on 24th March 2024.

She said TB is the second leading cause of death from a single infectious agent, surpassing the toll of HIV/AIDS.

Noting that despite the progress recorded there is the need to recognize the challenges of this public health threat, and urges leaders to Invest in research and develop new tools, such as vaccines and improved diagnostics to accelerate progress to enable a world free of TB.

The 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Lomé, Togo, in 2022 ignited a powerful movement toward ending tuberculosis (TB) – that of prioritizing childhood TB. Ministers of Health across the region united to address the needs of this often-overlooked population.

Since then, a 20% increase has been recorded in identified pediatric TB cases compared to the previous year. This signifies a positive step, indicating a more practical approach to recognizing TB in children and a decisive push to end this ancient disease.

According to the latest report, about 2.5 million individuals contracted TB in 2022 in the region, equating to one person every 13 seconds.

Additionally, the number of TB deaths in 2022 reached 424,000, resulting in the loss of one life every minute—even when TB is preventable and treatable. These figures underscore the urgency of our collective action in addressing the ongoing TB epidemic and highlight the need for sustained efforts to end it.

Furthermore, countries must prioritize addressing the social determinants of TB, such as poverty, inequality, and limited access to healthcare, to achieve sustainable outcomes. Collaboration across sectors and borders is paramount.

Highlighting the significant stride in supporting member states’ fight against TB in Africa the regional director said the WHO has set strategic directions, and developed monitoring tools, like the African TB scorecard with the African Union, to accelerate progress.

Our Organization is dedicated to generating and sharing knowledge on effective TB control methods. We support countries by updating TB treatment guidelines to reflect the latest practices and expanding access to rapid diagnostic tools. Emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation, the WHO African Region encourages knowledge exchange and collaborative efforts across countries, significantly advancing the mission to eliminate TB as a public health threat in Africa.

In the WHO African Region, we celebrate another milestone: diagnosing 70% of TB patients, marking a substantial reduction in missed cases and propelling us closer to our goal. This achievement is a testament to the relentless efforts of our Member States and partners, showcasing what can be accomplished through a shared vision and concerted action.

Between 2015 and 2022, our region achieved a remarkable 38% reduction in TB deaths, surpassing the initial End TB Strategy milestone of 35% by 2020.  From 2015 to 2022, the region also saw a 23% reduction in new TB cases, exceeding the initial End TB Strategy target of 20% by 2020. All this underscores the effectiveness of implemented strategies and renewed commitment from countries.

However, while the reduction in TB deaths is commendable, it still falls short of the 2025 End TB Strategy target of a 75% reduction. Similarly, the 23% decline in TB incidence mises the mark of the 50% reduction target for 2025. This highlights the need for continued and intensified efforts to meet these ambitious goals.

Challenges such as delayed diagnosis, limited access to new tools and technologies, and the ongoing threat of multi-drug resistant TB require continued vigilance and sustained efforts.

World TB day is celebrated every 24th of March, however, this years celebration is a wake up call on Stakeholders to join in providing resources, enhancing community engagement, conducting research, and forming private-sector partnerships to address the challenges of TB in Africa.

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