4,000 lives lost each day: ending the TB death toll

Media releases, World Congress on Public Health

Tuberculosis (TB) is treatable and preventable. So why does it still kill more than 4,000 people each day? And what do we need to do to end the epidemic by 2030? We need to talk about solutions on World TB Day, Friday 24 March 2017.

Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in Australian 130 years ago. Rates have plummeted since then, from 1,200 per million to four per million for males and from 900 to two per million for females, thanks to better living conditions, antibiotics, TB sanatoriums, immunisation and better screening.

Globally, we’re gaining ground in the fight to end TB:

  • Between 2000 and 2013, TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment programs saved an estimated 37 million lives.
  • The TB mortality rate fell by 45 per cent and the prevalence rate by 41 per cent from 1990 to 2013.

tb TB can lie dormant and undetected for months. But a weakened immune system leads to infectious ‘active’ TB, with fever, coughing up blood, and weight loss, the last of which gave the condition its historical name, ‘the consumption’. It’s a far cry from the Hollywood or BBC versions of TB, such as Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! elegantly dying while singing ‘Come what may’. 

Despite public health gains, TB remains one of the top ten causes of death.

  • In 2015, 1.8 million people died from the disease and 10.4 million people fell ill with it.
  • People with HIV are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop active TB and it’s a leading killer of HIV-positive people. In 2015, 35 per cent of HIV deaths were due to TB.
  • TB lives with poverty. Over 95 per cent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, such as India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

And there are new challenges.

  • Nearly half a million people developed multidrug resistant TB in 2015.
  • Global conflict and climate change are contributing to the mass migration of refugees from countries with high rates of TB, increasing the need for disease detection and management along migration routes and in destination countries.

At the World Congress on Public Health in Melbourne in April, we will hear how Australia’s and the world’s public health leaders plan to end the global TB epidemic by 2030—a Sustainable Development Goal.

“The story of TB is also the story of public health,” says congress convenor Professor Helen Keleher. “We’ve benefited enormously from a fundamental understanding of the germ theory of infectious disease. This understanding informed simple public health measures, like identifying and isolating people with active infectious diseases, and standard hygiene practices in health care.”

“TB is now the world’s number one cause of death from infectious disease, having overtaken HIV,” says Dr Suman Majumdar, a TB and health security expert at Burnet Institute.

“Whilst there has been progress in the global response, we will not reach the goal of ending the TB epidemic without addressing the emergence and spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis as a matter of urgency.

“Current projections show that by 2050, antimicrobial resistance will kill more people than cancer. Drug-resistant tuberculosis is a leading contributor to these deadly drug-resistant diseases. More than half of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases are found in Australia’s adjoining neighbours in the Asia Pacific region.”

Public health and tuberculosis experts available for interviews for World TB Day, Friday 24 March.

Public Health global experts participating in the Congress are available for media interviews for World TB Day, including:

  • Congress chair and public health guru, Professor Helen Keleher (www.med.monash.edu.au/epidemiology/staff/adjunct/keleher.html)
  • Adjunct Professor Michael Moore AM, President of the World Public Health Association
  • Dr Suman Majumdar, TB expert and deputy program director of health security at Burnet Institute.

For further information and interviews contact:


Tuberculosis at the 15th World Congress on Public Health

The World Leadership Dialogue ‘Can we end the global tuberculosis epidemic by 2030?’ will take place on Thursday 6 April as part of the World Congress on Public Health, and will be led by Dr Suman Majumdar.

Tuberculosis topics to be presented at the World Congress on Public Health include:

  • Why is there an association (co-morbidity) of diabetes and tuberculosis?
  • How should Australia manage tuberculosis in refugees coming from countries with high rates?
  • What can be learnt from the patterns of who has died from drug resistant tuberculosis in Malaysia?
  • What can we learn from mapping tuberculosis cases in Nigeria, and the socio-economic factors that contribute to it?
  • How can authorities improve the identification and treatment of tuberculosis in the poor rural areas of Bangladesh?
  • How do crowded prison cells spread infectious diseases, including tuberculosis?
  • How is the issue of tuberculosis in the workplace being handled in the Philippines?
  • How is improving the knowledge and management practices of health workers critical to lessening the burden of tuberculosis in Nigeria?