In just fourteen days, millions around the globe will come together to commemorate World TB Day on 24 March. The theme of World TB Day 2021 - 'The Clock is Ticking' –conveys the sense that the world is running out of time to act on the commitments to end TB made by global leaders. This is especially critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put End TB progress at risk, and to ensure equitable access to prevention and care in line with WHO's drive towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.
On World TB Day, WHO is calling for action on several fronts to ensure that the commitments made to end TB are achieved:
- Countries are urged to implement ten priority recommendations outlined in the 2020 progress report on TB issued by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and developed with WHO support. The report stressed that high-level commitments and targets have galvanized global and national progress towards ending TB, but urgent and more ambitious investments and actions are required, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO is urging countries to implement the ten priority recommendations from the report to put the world on track to reach agreed targets by 2022 and beyond.
- Essential TB services should be sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that gains made in the fight against TB are not reversed. All measures should be taken to ensure continuity of services for people who need preventive and curative treatment for TB, including during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. People-centred delivery of TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care services, including through digital technologies, should be ensured in tandem with the COVID-19 response.
- Tackling health inequities is vital to ensure health for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the deep disparities that persist between and within countries, some of which are being exacerbated and risk widening even further. People with TB are among the most marginalized and vulnerable, facing barriers in accessing care. In alignment with World Health Day, 7 April 2021, WHO is calling for global action to address health inequities for people with TB and other diseases.
- Systematic screening should be scaled-up to help reach all people with TB prevention and care. It is estimated that close to three million people with TB are not diagnosed or reported annually around the world. Improved TB screening using new tools and approaches to reach all people with care could help bridge this gap. Systematic screening is critical to ensure we can detect TB early in the people who need it, while also identifying people who could benefit from TB preventive treatment. WHO is releasing new guidelines on TB systematic screening along with an accompanying operational guide on 22 March.
- Ending TB requires concerted action by all sectors to provide the right services, support and enabling safe environment in the right place, at the right time. Everyone has a role to play in ending TB – individuals, communities, businesses, governments, societies.
We are running out of time to fulfil global commitments to end TB. Even as we battle COVID-19, we must not ease up the fight against TB but redouble efforts to save more lives and end suffering. We need political will and accountability, financial resources, engagement from all sectors, and community ownership, and we need this now. The clock is ticking!"
Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director, WHO's Global TB Programme
WHO has developed an advocacy and communications package to support awareness building and drive action across all levels, in the lead up to and on World TB Day. Please access the package below to join us in amplifying efforts to end TB.