Tuberculosis Deaths Now Rival HIV – Despite Being Completely Curable, Why Are 10 Million People Suffering?

Deaths due to tuberculosis rivaled those by HIV/AIDS last year. A completely curable disease, TB is now one of the leading causes of death globally.

Despite global efforts and advanced medication that can cure tuberculosis or TB completely, the disease claimed almost as many lives as HIV/AIDS in 2014. Tuberculosis infections continue to rise alarmingly, and for the first time, the disease killed almost as many people as AIDS, indicated a report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The annual report indicated that 4,000 people are infected by TB every day. Cumulatively, in 2014, 1.1 million died of tuberculosis, while 1.2 million lives were claimed by HIV/AIDS. About 400,000 were infected with both HIV as well as tuberculosis. Interestingly, it might not be the dramatic increase in people infected with TB, but the enhanced access to HIV/AIDS treatment that has helped people, indicated Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO TB program.

"The report reflects the dramatic gains in access to HIV/AIDS treatment in the past decade, which has helped many people, survive their infections. But it also reflects disparities in funding for the two global killers. The good news is that TB intervention has saved some 43 million lives since 2000, but given that most cases of TB can be successfully treated, the death rate remained unacceptably high."

Overall, about 9.6 million people were infected with tuberculosis in 2014. However, only six million cases were reported to the WHO. While unreported cases continue to prevent the eradication of TB, there are multiple other issues that have ensured tuberculosis continues to spread despite the best of efforts by medical teams.

Tuberculosis Deaths Now Rival HIV
[Photo by Rodger Bosch / Getty Images]

Patients often abandon treatment midway if they start feeling better, but the complete course is mandatory to completely rid the body of the disease. Such poor practices have allowed the TB virus, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, to morph into what the doctors call a superbug. Once a person is infected with the TB superbug, a conventional line of treatment doesn't work and has to be administered with completely different medications.

The report indicates there were 480,000 cases of patients that could have been infected with such multi-drug resistant strain of tuberculosis last year, but only one in four such cases were reported, lamented Grania Brigden, interim medical director of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) Access Campaign.

"When it comes to the deadlier forms of the disease –- such as multidrug-resistant TB -– the news is particularly bleak. We're losing ground in the battle to control drug-resistant forms of TB, and without considerable corrective action, the vast majority of people with MDR-TB won't ever be diagnosed, put on treatment, or cured."

International funding for HIV/AIDS is 10 times higher than for TB, with $8 billion spent on HIV/AIDS interventions, compared with a total of $800,000 spent on TB, reported MSN. Teams fighting tuberculosis often lack funds. Raviglione noted that there still remains a $1.4 billion gap in the amount of funding needed to adequately address the TB infections.

Despite being curable, TB often becomes a life-threatening disease. The worst of the cases are reported in China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan, reported Yahoo News. The most number of new cases are from Africa. Owing to the lethality of the disease, it is often labeled as a silent killer and is considered as one of the deadliest diseases in the world.

The number of cases diagnosed in 2014 was much higher than in previous years. Interestingly, the report mentions this is due to better diagnostics and improved detection techniques. Fortunately, the mortality rate has been steadily decreasing. But on the other hand, the number of people infected with TB each year remains a primary concern.

If the world truly wants to end deaths due to tuberculosis, it needs to radically increase the number of detection centers and ensure affordable medical care is made available to the poorest sections of the society, just like it has done for HIV/AIDS-infected people.

[Photo by Pal Pillai / Getty Images]