This year on World Tuberculosis Day there is cause for optimism. The recent adoption of a fast and powerful new diagnostic tool promises to accelerate international gains against the disease.
At the same time, our hope must be tempered by the sobering fact that multidrug-resistant forms of TB remain an ever-present threat that, if allowed to spread unchecked, could set back the steady progress made during the past two decades.
The World Health Organization's Stop TB Strategy has brought major achievements, including impressive improvements in the way TB care is delivered. Over the past 15 years, well over 40 million people have received treatment in accordance with the Strategy. Prevalence and death rates continue to fall, demonstrating the power of international commitment to save lives.
This progress could be lost if we are not vigilant. Efforts to carry out the Strategy are severely underfunded, as is research to develop additional, badly needed tools. Without further improvements in TB prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, some 8 million people will die of TB between now and 2015. TB will also claim the lives of many people infected with HIV.
TB care still fails to reach everyone in need. About one third of people with TB do not benefit from accurate diagnosis and appropriate care. Most of these nearly 3 million people are in vulnerable and marginalized groups, including slum dwellers, migrant workers and drug users.
We need to reach them by teaming up with civil society, health workers and businesses. In the 21st century, no one should die from this curable disease.
Access to quality health care is a basic human right. On World TB Day, I call for action to carry out the Stop TB Strategy everywhere, for all those who need it. This will go a long way toward universal access to diagnosis and treatment, and that, in turn, will help rid the world of one of the biggest infectious killers facing humankind.