Last year tuberculosis surpassed HIV as the most deadly infectious disease, according to new World Health Organization (WHO) data.
The data shows TB killed 1.5 million people in 2014, while 1.2 million people died that year from HIV-related illnesses. Both totals include 390,000 people who were both HIV-positive and had TB when they died.
People living with HIV are highly susceptible to the bacterial infection that attacks the lungs. Studies have shown that TB risk climbs sharply after an HIV infection. People living with HIV are 26-31 times more likely to develop TB than people without HIV. And TB is the leading cause of death among people with HIV. (Here's one reason poz people are more at risk of catching TB).
Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO’s global TB program, that it isn’t a great surprise that TB has overtaken HIV as a cause of death because far more money has been invested in the fight against HIV than has been to combatting TB.
“Investments in TB are a fraction of the amount that is invested in HIV,” Mario Raviglione told The Wall Street Journal, in an interview. “That shows a lack of consideration for what this disease is, how many people it kills and the fact that it is curable.”
UNAIDS reports that globally, over $21.7 billion was spent fighting and treating HIV last year. Meanwhile, the WHO report indicates less than a third of that amount ($6.6 billion) was spent funding TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment in 2014.
“More people are dying from TB than HIV any way you count it,” Eric Goosby, a U.N. special envoy on tuberculosis, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. “The reason is because of the difference in investment. TB has continued to kill people, but we have not responded to it with resources.”
The WHO says that 9.6 million new cases of TB were reported in 2014, an increase of 600,000 from the previous year. Last year’s numbers included a million children, nearly twice the number of children as were reported as new cases in 2013.
Despite what those numbers seem to suggest, TB isn't becoming more prevalent. Instead. the number of cases a year are gradually declining. Globally, the number of new TB cases a year has declined an average of 1.5 percent a year since 2000.
The statistical jump in cases reflects improved reporting techniques over the past few years, specifically in Indonesia, where new surveys indicate a million citizens become infected with TB each year (two times the rate previously reported).
Part of the change in reporting involved Indonesian investigators conducting door-to-door interviews rather than relying on official disease notifications. The new approach found many people who are treated by private-sector physicians whose cases weren't being reported to the government. More TB cases were also found in Nigeria and other countries.
36.9 million people are living with HIV world-wide, with 15 million receiving the kind of life-extending treatment (specifically antiretrovirals) that have dropped the number of deaths associated with HIV 42 percent since 2004.