Tuberculosis has joined HIV/AIDS as the top infectious disease killer on the planet, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday.
TB killed 1.5 million people in 2014, including 400,000 HIV/AIDS patients who died of TB-related complications. HIV/AIDS killed 1.2 million people last year.
TB and HIV/AIDS are "partners in crime" and often affect the same vulnerable groups of people, according to Eric Goosby, the U.N. special envoy on tuberculosis. Despite the diseases' similar death tolls, scientists and public health professionals confronting TB don't have as many resources as their allies fighting HIV/AIDS. In 2013, the global community invested just $5.3 billion in the campaign against TB, compared with the estimated $19.1 billion it spent to combat HIV/AIDS.
"They are killing at the same rate," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, the director of the WHO's Global TB Program, noting that "there is a real disproportionate funding level" for the disease. "In the end, TB deserves the same amount of attention as HIV/AIDS."
According to the 2015 Global Tuberculosis Report, an annual report compiled by the WHO and released this week, it would take $1.4 billion in additional treatment funding to address the global tuberculosis epidemic. Another $1.3 billion in research and development funds could provide better drugs and vaccine development.
"HIV has had all these resources, and it's great," said Cheri Vincent, chief of the infectious diseases division at the U.S. Agency for International Development. "They've been able turn around an epidemic in such a short period of time."
"TB needs something like that," she said. "We need to be able to invest, because the deaths are declining, they're just not declining at the rate that's acceptable to all of us."
While overall TB deaths are declining, multidrug-resistant TB -- which is resistant to the two first-line TB treatment drugs -- poses a growing threat, the WHO report notes. In 2014, an estimated 480,000 people contracted MDR-TB, which some experts call "airborne cancer."
That number could double in the next 15 to 20 years, according to a model developed by Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. And 75 million additional people will die of MDR-TB over the next 35 years, a United Kingdom government report predicted.
For more on MDR-TB, read this special report from The Huffington Post.
Ultimately, it will take global action to stem the spread of TB, Goosby said.
"This new report is a wake-up call. No longer can we sit back and allow TB to be the stepchild in our global health efforts," he said. "TB is now the top of the leaderboard with HIV/AIDS. We can prevent treat and cure TB. TB often strikes the voiceless, those that suffer do it in silence. We need to be their voice … we need to accelerate the political backing and momentum."