By Christian Benard

As the World marks AIDS Day observed every year on December 1, the increase in Tuberculosis (TB) deaths among people living with HIV is raising an alarm.

According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2020, TB deaths increased for the first time in over a decade going up to as high as 1.5 million, a trend anticipated to elevate in 2021. TB deaths among people living with HIV represented approximately 14% of all deaths from TB in 2020.

The Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership Dr. Lucica Ditiu said close to 6000 people living with HIV die from TB yet most of such deaths could have been averted.

“It is so upsetting to see that HIV prevention and treatment extend people’s lives only to see them dying because of tuberculosis. At the moment, people living with HIV face a triple burden of disease threatened not only by HIV itself but also by COVID-19 and tuberculosis,” she said.

“We might not be able to prevent all co-infections, but we definitely know how to prevent and treat TB. Its funding however, remains pathetically low compared to other disease areas, and insufficient even for diagnosis and treatment.”

About 8% of people living with TB globally have HIV with the highest proportion being in the African region, and consequently exceeding 50% in Southern Africa.

According to Dr. Ditiu, the major concern thereby is that only half of people living with HIV worldwide who develop TB are being diagnosed with, and treated for TB, with the other half left to face repercussions of untreated TB and the highly linked fatality rate.

“It is ultimately about ensuring access for everyone, everywhere, irrespective of their vulnerabilities and without discrimination to proper diagnosis, treatment and care. But due to lack of resources and political commitment especially in the African region, millions have been left behind with many lives lost,” she said.

Dr. Ditiu submitted that the guidance and tools needed are there, but cited lack of adequate funding as a key hiccup thus placing the partnership in not more than 40% of what is required to reach 100% of people.

Further investments, modern TB diagnostic, regular screening for TB such as x-ray and rapid molecular tests should be put into consideration.

With the UN target of reaching 6 million people living with HIV who have received TB preventive treatment by 2022, having been achieved, it clearly shows that the buck stops with prioritization and adequate funding.

In addition, the Stop TB Partnership aligns more than 2000 partners across the world including international organizations, countries, donors from public and private sectors, governments and Non-governmental organizations as well as individuals who have expressed an interest in working together to achieve the goal.

The team identifies, fund and support innovative approaches, ideas and solutions to ensure that TB is eliminated as a public health problem and ultimately obtain a world free of TB.  It therefore, derives strategies to address the challenges posed by emerging threats by providing diagnosis, TB care and treatment.