An estimated 3 million people living with tuberculosis do not have access to the care they need, according to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the report, more people with tuberculosis (TB) are receiving treatment than ever before, with 7 million people receiving treatment in 2018, up from 6.4 million in 2017.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that are spread through the air when a person with the disease coughs or speaks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the bacteria most commonly grows in the lungs and symptoms include a bad and persistent cough, coughing up blood or mucus, and chest pain. It is curable and preventable, but can also be deadly.
Deaths related to TB have reduced, from 1.6 million in 2017 to 1.5 million in 2018. However, it remains one of the top 10 causes of deaths worldwide. In addition, tuberculosis is the leading killer of people with HIV and over 250,000 deaths last year were among people with HIV.
The disease disproportionately impacts low-income and marginalized people. Countries with the highest infection rates include: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and South Africa. The WHO report found that the vast majority of TB patients (80%) in these countries spend more than a quarter of their annual household income on treating the disease.
The WHO states that health infrastructure of these countries makes it difficult to provide a timely diagnosis and sufficient treatment for TB.
“Weak reporting systems are another problem: health providers may treat people but fail to report cases to national authorities, leaving an incomplete picture of national epidemics and service needs,” the report said.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said that in order to meet targets in reducing TB, universal health coverage is needed.
“Sustained progress on TB will require strong health systems and better access to services. That means a renewed investment in primary health care and a commitment to universal health coverage,” he said.
Last month, world leaders adopted the United Nations Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage at the United Nations in New York, committing to achieving universal health coverage by 2030.
“Child health programs still do not always focus adequately on TB,” the WHO said in a statement, in reference to its report showing that half of children with the disease do not have access to quality care. Additionally, only a quarter of children under the age of 5 in households affected by TB currently receive preventive treatment.
According to the WHO, last year there was an estimated 500,000 cases of drug-resistant TB. This can be improved by shifting to fully oral regimens, which the WHO claims is safer and more effective.
However, funding to combat TB falls short, with the WHO estimating an additional $3.3 billion is needed to combat the disease in 2019. Among the funding priorities is developing a new vaccine or drug treatment and rapid diagnostic tests.