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Despite being one of the most lethal illnesses globally, tuberculosis shows promise for a potential vaccine breakthrough.
Science & Health

Despite being one of the most lethal illnesses globally, tuberculosis shows promise for a potential vaccine breakthrough.

The latest report from the World Health Organization reveals that global instances of tuberculosis, also referred to as TB, increased last year due to interruptions in health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, hindering progress in combatting the illness.

According to the latest WHO report, Tuberculosis, a contagious illness that primarily affects the lungs, is preventable and treatable. In 2022, it resulted in approximately 1.3 million fatalities, which is a 19% decrease from the previous year.

The number of global TB cases has slightly increased to approximately 10.6 million. Around 40% of individuals with TB are not diagnosed or receiving treatment.

The disease is just behind COVID-19 as the world’s deadliest infectious illness, with India, Indonesia and the Philippines particularly affected.

COVID disruption

In 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak caused healthcare systems to become overburdened in various regions. Dr. Lucica Ditiu, the head of the Stop TB Partnership in Geneva, stated that there was a significant decrease in the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis.

“Regrettably, there has been an increase in the prevalence of TB. Previously, we saw a decrease of 2% annually. However, due to the impact of COVID-19, there has been a rise in the last two years – 2021 and 2022 – of approximately 4%,” she stated in an interview with VOA.

According to the World Health Organization, the COVID pandemic has caused significant disruptions leading to approximately 500,000 additional deaths from TB between 2020 and 2022.

Childhood TB

Ditiu notes that the report highlights a worrisome lack of advancement in certain aspects.

The situation for individuals with drug-resistant TB and childhood TB is quite challenging. According to the speaker, nearly 200,000 people were identified and received treatment for drug-resistant TB. However, as the World Health Organization stated, only two out of every five individuals with drug-resistant TB were able to access treatment. The main limitation seems to be the availability of proper diagnosis.

According to Ditiu, approximately 1.3 million children have tuberculosis, which accounts for approximately 12% of the global number. She also stated that children make up 16% of the deaths caused by tuberculosis.

Improved diagnosis

Yet, efforts towards battling tuberculosis seem to be regaining momentum. The overall amount of cases identified worldwide in the past year was 7.5 million, marking the highest number on record.

Ditiu stated that this demonstrates that the countries have taken measures to rebound from the effects of COVID and have even surpassed their pre-COVID levels.

Vaccine hopes

GlaxoSmithKline has developed a potentially effective tuberculosis vaccine, called M72, which is currently in the last round of trials. Additionally, there are sixteen other vaccines in earlier stages of testing.

Ditiu stated that obtaining a vaccine would be the ultimate game changer.

The decrease in tuberculosis deaths by 19% between 2018 and 2022 falls significantly below the World Health Organization’s goal of a 75% reduction by 2025.

The funding received for TB diagnosis, treatment, and prevention services in 2022 was less than half of the WHO’s goal of $13 billion.

At a special U.N. meeting in September, governments pledged to allocate $22 billion annually towards TB by 2027.