The year 2021 has been a very difficult year. As we count the last days before we ring in 2022 and enter into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain - our work to end TB needs to continue and be further strengthened.
I want to start out by expressing my deepest and heartfelt gratitude to all of us for the tremendous amount of work done over the past 12 months, despite all the hardships we have faced. The perseverance, resilience and ‘can-do-despite-it-all-attitude’ are amazing. Thank you for not giving up, for continuing the fight and for supporting all people affected by TB.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every single one of us in so many ways. Progress made in the overall global TB response has been hit hard and led to disastrous consequences for many. Crucial gains made prior to the pandemic have been set back by more than a decade because of the urgent need to shift resources and manpower to stem the spread of COVID-19 and increased barriers faced by people with TB for accessing care, and this has resulted in a huge negative impact on the rights and inclusion of people with TB.
Sadly, as we all know there has been a sharp increase in TB-related deaths with more than 4100 people dying every day of which 650 are children; only 5.8 million people were diagnosed and treated with TB in 2020, down from 7.1 million in 2019.
With COVID-19 and the new variants continuing to dominate the headlines, the international community has turned its already limited attention and funding away from the fight against TB. Just imagine the possibilities if TB could receive the same urgent priority and funding. But this will not discourage us, and we will not give up. It is upsetting that humanity has learned nothing from the past and from the previous epidemics and threats – ignoring airborne infectious diseases like TB, shifting priorities, losing focus, investing in punctual interventions without constructing systems and communities ready to fight all diseases and without strengthening the rights and inclusion of people. We will just keep on failing, again and again. This is why our work is so vital right now.
WE NEED TO ENTER INTO 2022 WITH HOPE
During 2021, we have seen continued, real and tangible progress and reasons for hope on the ground. New TB tools such as digital ultraportable X-rays systems, artificial intelligence, and mobile diagnostics for TB, and increasing real-time TB data utilization, bi-directional testing for TB and COVID-19 and strengthening communities and civil society engagement in TB response are showing amazing results in the fight against this deadly disease.
In the coming year, we will have to deliver on the 2018 UNHLM targets and commitments, and move towards ending TB by 2030. What we need in addition to hope, ambition, availability of tools and smart innovations and tools, is money. The TB response needs funding.
Global investment is currently at less than 40% of the US$15 billion per year that global leaders promised at the UN HLM in 2018. It is not acceptable and it cannot be explained or justified how the second infectious disease killer after COVID-19, which is hundreds of years old, and airborne, curable disease, is so severely underfunded. For decades we have tried to fight this response with just a fraction of the funding that is needed. This is why in TB response, we have never had a full, comprehensive package of interventions and tools offered to people with TB. This is why we don’t yet have a TB vaccine and this is why in the year 2021, we will still have 60% of people diagnosed with TB using microscopy and clinical examinations, just like 100 years ago.
Therefore I call on all of us to be united like never before, and engage together in a year-long campaign, under the World TB Day 2022 theme, that I announce now:
Investing in TB means most and foremost obtaining financial investments, from governments, the private sector, donors and high networth individuals. We know that TB investments show a great return on investment and will lead to a decrease in the economic impact TB has on already challenged domestic budgets.
Investing in TB response can also mean investing in our work, our efforts, our mind, our love, our energy which are all an essential “currency” needed to end this disease.
As always, when we officially unveil the full World TB Day 2022 campaign (expected on 25 February), infographics, messages and all other materials will be available in multiple languages on our website.
With this in mind, let’s end this year and look with hope, courage, ambition, and love towards 2022.
Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership