World TB Day: leave no one behind

The WHO European Region marks World TB Day on 24 March 2017 under the global theme “Unite to end TB: leave no one behind”. This year, the focus for the Region is on the particular challenges faced by people living with tuberculosis (TB) and HIV coinfection. Detection and treatment of TB are often hampered for this group due to stigma and marginalization.

Ahead of World TB Day, WHO/Europe and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control released a new TB surveillance and monitoring report. Data from the report show that, between 2011 and 2015, new TB cases and deaths have continued to decline in the 53 countries of the Region by 4.3% and 8.5%, respectively.
However, vulnerable groups for TB infection, such as people living with HIV, do not benefit from this overall trend. In 2011–2015, new TB/HIV coinfections increased by 40% in the Region. HIV cases have also increased in the Region, with more than 153 000 new cases in 2015 – a 7% increase from the previous year. Testing all TB patients for HIV, and vice versa, and providing rapid treatment could reverse this negative trend.

Improving TB detection for better treatment

Timely and accurate laboratory diagnostic services are crucial for detecting TB and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), as well as for providing patients with appropriate treatment. MDR-TB can only be detected through laboratory screening. In the Region, where 74 000 people were estimated to fall ill with MDR-TB in 2015, MDR-TB rates are the highest in the world. Improving early diagnosis is thus critical to addressing the challenges of MDR-TB among at-risk groups, including people living with HIV, prisoners and migrants.

New molecular techniques that significantly reduce the time needed for TB and MDR-TB detection – from months to hours – represent an important step forward to ensure early treatment initiation, as well as to reduce and control further transmission. The European Tuberculosis Laboratory Initiative, with its secretariat at WHO/Europe, has developed a new algorithm to address the increasing need for the timely and accurate detection of TB and MDR-TB by making the best use of WHO-recommended diagnostic tools.

Pursuing the goal of ending TB by 2030

The World TB Day theme is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which embraces the principle of leaving no one behind in an effort to transform the world and improve people’s lives. Sustainable Development Goal target 3.3 aims to end, by 2030, the epidemics of AIDS and TB, among other diseases. To do so, it will be vital to address the health needs of the disadvantaged, the marginalized and those out of reach of the health system.

WHO/Europe and the countries of the Region seek to end TB by 2030 through the Tuberculosis action plan for the WHO European Region 2016–2020. It identifies 3 regional targets to be achieved by 2020:

  • a 35% reduction in TB deaths;
  • a 25% reduction in TB cases; and
  • a 75% treatment success rate among MDR-TB patients.

Implementation of the action plan would save an estimated 3.1 million lives, curing 1.4 million patients and preventing 1.7 million new cases of all forms of TB.