POLITICS
10/28/2015 11:00 am ET Updated Jan 03, 2017

Tuberculosis Causes As Many Global Deaths As HIV/AIDS

But HIV/AIDS receives almost four times as much global funding.
Clinical lead Doctor Al Story points to an x-ray showing a pair of lungs infected with TB (tuberculosis) during an interview
Luke MacGregor / Reuters
Clinical lead Doctor Al Story points to an x-ray showing a pair of lungs infected with TB (tuberculosis) during an interview with Reuters on board the mobile X-ray unit screening for TB in Ladbroke Grove in London January 27, 2014. The only mobile unit testing for TB in the country works with the most vulnerable to the disease including the homeless, drug and alcohol dependent. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor 

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.

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.

How Tuberculosis Affects The Body

COMMON SYMPTOMS

A bad cough that lasts

more than three weeks

Fever

TB is spread when

you inhale the

bacteria in droplets

expelled when

someone infected

speaks or coughs.

Coughing up

blood or sputum

Weakness

or fatigue

Pain in the chest

No appetite

Weight loss

COURSE OF INFECTION

INFECTION

Can turn into either latent or active TB.

LATENT TB

In the initial stage of disease, called latent TB, TB bacteria remain alive,

but cannot spread to other tissue or people. Most infections will never

get past this stage. 10 percent of latent TB infections become active.

DEATH

ACTIVE TB

Active pulmonary TB

(TB in the lungs) is contagious.

Without treatment,

people who are HIV-

negative have a mean

10-year fatality rate

of 70 percent.

RECOVERY

A full course of TB

treatment takes

6 to 9 months of

taking several drugs.

Sources: CDC, PLoS One, WHO

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