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W.H.O. celebrates World Tuberculosis Day 

By Naneka A. Hoffman

The World Health Organization and partners around the world have celebrated World Tuberculosis Day with the theme, “Yes! We can end TB.”

W.H.O. Regional Director for Africa, Doctor Matshidiso Moeti, recalls that the 72nd session of the 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. 

She notes that since then, a 20% increase has been recorded in identified pediatric TB cases compared to the previous year, adding that this signifies a positive step and indicates a more practical approach to recognizing TB in children and a decisive push to end this ancient disease.

She reflects on progress in combating TB while recognizing challenges to eliminating the disease as a public health threat. 

According to her, TB continues to be the second leading cause of death from a single infectious agent, surpassing the toll of HIV/AIDS. 

Quoting latest statistics, Doctor Moeti reveals that about 2.5 million people contracted TB in 2022 in the region, equating to one person every 13 seconds, with deaths in the same period at 424,000, resulting in the loss of one life every minute, even when TB is preventable and treatable.

She says these figures underscore the urgency for collective action in addressing the ongoing TB epidemic and highlight the need for sustained efforts to end it.

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She explains that WHO African Region supports member states’ fight against TB on the Continent by setting strategic directions, developing monitoring tools, like the African TB scorecard with the African Union, and ensuring progress towards the End TB Strategy. 

“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.”

She emphasizes that because of 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.

She notes that 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, adding that 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.”

She discloses that between 2015 and 2022, Africa achieved a remarkable 38% reduction in TB deaths, surpassing the initial End TB Strategy milestone of 35% by 2020, adding that 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 and that all this underscores the effectiveness of implemented strategies and renewed commitment from countries.

She says the reduction in TB deaths is commendable, but it still falls short of the 2025 End TB Strategy target of a 75% reduction. The 23% decline in TB incidence misses the mark of the 50% reduction target for 2025. She adds that this highlights the need for continued and intensified efforts to meet these ambitious goals.

Meanwhile, the WHO Africa boss points that 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.  

He suggests that stakeholders join the campaign by providing resources, enhancing community engagement, conducting research, and forming private-sector partnerships through a unified action to address the challenges of TB in Africa and achieve the common goal of its elimination as a public health threat.

She urges Member States to prioritize a multi-faceted approach that addresses the root causes of the disease while bolstering efforts in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. 

At the same time, she urges African health leaders to intensify their commitment to strengthening health systems, ensuring equitable access to TB care, and scaling up innovative interventions. 

She recommends investing in research and developing new tools, including vaccines and improved diagnostics, to accelerate progress. Editing by Jonathan Browne

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