23 March 2018 – Despite significant progress made over the last years, tuberculosis (TB) remains the top infectious killer worldwide. In the WHO European Region, the number of new TB patients has decreased at an average rate of 4.3% yearly over the last decade – the fastest decline in the world. But this positive trend would still be insufficient to achieve the target of ending the TB epidemic by 2030, as envisioned in the End TB Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Region also faces a number of specific public health threats related to TB. For example, countries in the Region have the highest rates of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) globally, and it is estimated that only 73% of MDR-TB cases were diagnosed in 2016. Rates of TB-HIV coinfection have also increased sharply in the past several years in the European Region.
On World TB Day, marked annually on 24 March, WHO/Europe joins with the global community to raise awareness about TB and to call for increased efforts to end the global TB epidemic. “It is not enough to ‘walk’ towards ending TB, as this way we would arrive too late for too many people,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “We need to ‘leap forward’ and invest now for individual benefits and societal returns. The Tuberculosis Action Plan for the WHO European Region 2016–2020 shows that bold actions will save over 3 million lives and US$ 48 billion in 5 years in the Region.”
The European Region theme for World TB Day 2018 is “Time for revamped commitment by all”, focused on the investment case for TB and revamped political commitment for immediate and bold actions. This theme links to the global theme “Wanted: leaders for a TB-free world. You can make history. End TB.” Along with political commitment, it is vital to build commitment to end TB at all levels. This includes everyone from mayors, governors, parliamentarians and community leaders, to people affected by TB, civil society advocates, health workers, doctors and nurses, nongovernmental organizations and other partners. All can be TB leaders in their areas of work or experience.
This is a critical message, given the political importance of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on TB in September this year, which will bring together heads of states in New York. It follows the very successful WHO Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB in Moscow on 16–17 November 2017, which resulted in high-level commitments from ministers and other leaders from 120 countries to accelerate progress to end TB.
The stories below illustrate ways in which people in different countries of the Region are working in their own spheres to end TB – from transforming TB services to be more people-centred, with better health outcomes, to working to raise awareness of risk factors of TB, such as smoking. These people, and many others like them throughout the European Region, play a pivotal role in bringing the world a step closer to making TB a disease of the past.