TB named Top Infectious Killer in the World, Killing More People than HIV

By Jennifer Orford

Over the next two weeks Impact will post the top 12 global health moments of 2015 with commentary from experts. We want to hear your thoughts, too. So login and comment, share on social media and reflect on what has been a pretty interesting year for global health.

With 9.6 million new cases of Tuberculosis last year and 1.5 million deaths, the World Health Organization has named TB the top infectious killer in the world, killing more people than HIV in 2014. This change stems both from rapidly reducing mortality from HIV, as well as improvements in methods for counting TB cases. These new methods have unearthed one million of the new cases of pediatric TB, almost doubling the previous estimate.

Additionally there were almost half a million cases of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) TB — double the number from 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals were set. The WHO estimates that 3.3 percent of new cases and 20% of previously treated cases are found to be drug-resistant. More than half of the 480,000 MDR-TD cases were in India, China, and Russia — countries also suffering with the highest TB incidence.

Over the past decade far more money has been spent on developing HIV treatments than on treating TB, despite the intertwining of the two diseases. Because their immune systems are suppressed, people living with HIV are much more likely to have active TB infections. In fact, TB is the leading cause of death among those with HIV. But TB also strikes in countries where HIV is less prevalent. India, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, and China contribute substantially to the global TB burden.

There is good news however. The Millennium Development Goal target of halting and reversing the TB epidemic has been meet, and TB incidence has fallen by about 1.5% per year since 2000 according to WHO. The global TB death rate has dropped 47% since 1990.


The finding, announced on October 28, 2015, accompanied a call for a greater emphasis on funding TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment. In 2014, the WHO estimates that TB funding was $6.6 billion, compared to the $21.7 billion invested into HIV/AIDS globally. Without much-needed funding, gaps in detection and treatment cannot be effectively addressed. The rise of MDR-TB makes case detection and treatment essential in combatting the epidemic and facing the challenge of drug-resistance.

The WHO End TB Strategy outlines the strategic pillars for countries to end the epidemic by 2030. It includes reducing TB deaths by 90% and cutting new cases by 80% globally. The strategy calls for effectively employing integrated patient-centered care and prevention, bold policies and supportive systems, and intensifying research and innovation to end the epidemic.

“Ending the TB epidemic is now part of the Sustainable Development Goal agenda” said Dr Eric Goosby, UN Special Envoy on Tuberculosis. “If we want to achieve it, we’ll need far more investment – at a level befitting such a global threat. We’ll also need progress on universal health coverage and poverty alleviation. We want the most vulnerable communities worldwide to gain first, not last, in our efforts.”

To learn more about PSI’s work to prevent and treat TB, click here.

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Photo Credit (banner): Ko Gyi, WitnessBurma
Caption: The World Health Organization says tuberculosis is now the world’s leading infectious killer, topping HIV/AIDS. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports that the WHO says we need more aggressive efforts curb the epidemic.

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