The recent revelation by the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP) that Nigeria accounts for 23 per cent of tuberculosis (TB) deaths in Africa is alarming. More worrisome is the disclosure by the NTBLCP that about $300 million is required to fill the funding gap for interventions to end the TB scourge in the country by 2030. About 17 per cent of the nation’s TB budget is not funded. This might explain why Nigeria records more deaths from the disease in Africa.

National coordinator of the NTBLCP, Dr. Labaran Shehu, who stated this in Abuja during the 2024 pre-World Tuberculosis Day press conference, pointed out that undetected TB carriers in the country could infect between 12 per cent and 15 per cent of the nation’s population every year. According to statistics, one person in Nigeria dies from the disease every five minutes. The NTBLCP was established in 1989 by the federal government to coordinate the tuberculosis and leprosy control efforts in the country.

The theme of this year’s World Tuberculosis Day (WTD) marked on March 24 was “Yes! We can end TB!” The fact sheet of the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that about 1.3 million people died from TB in 2022 (including 167,000 people with HIV). Globally, TB is the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19 (above HIV and AIDS).

In 2022, an estimated 10.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis worldwide, including 5.8 million men, 3.5 million women and 1.3 million children. The global agency says that TB is present in all countries and age groups. However, the good news is that it is curable and preventable. Also, Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) remains a public health crisis as well as a health security risk.

According to WHO, only about 2 in 5 people with drug resistant TB accessed treatment in 2022. It is cheering that the global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 75 million lives since 2000. It has been revealed that about $13 billion is required annually for TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care to achieve the global target agreed at the 2018 UN high level-meeting on TB. Instructively, ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is among the health targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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In African region, about 2.5 million people fell ill with TB. This accounts for a quarter of new TB cases worldwide.  An estimated 424,000 people died from the disease in the African region in 2022. Over 33 per cent of TB deaths occur in Africa. In 2022, eight countries accounted for more than two-thirds of the global total: India, Indonesia, China, the Philippians, Pakistan, Nigeria and DR Congo.

TB is an infectious disease that most often affects the lungs and is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or spit. According to medical experts, the common symptoms of TB include prolonged cough (sometimes with blood), chest pain, weakness, fatigue, weight loss, fever and night sweats. Some of the preventive measures are: seeking medical attention if anyone has any of the symptoms of the disease, getting tested for TB and adhering to treatment regimen if one is diagnosed with the disease.

TB is not a death sentence. It is curable and preventable. In Nigeria, the treatment is given free in all government’s health facilities across the country. Unfortunately, many Nigerians are not aware that TB treatment is free. The NTBLCP boss admitted this lack of awareness about TB treatment when he stated: “In Nigeria, over 70 per cent of people with this disease have spent what they have just to treat TB. This is happening because people are not aware that the drugs are there free. They don’t go to the right place to access drugs.”

The federal and state governments should embark on massive awareness programme on TB disease, preventive measures and where to access free treatment across the country, including the 774 local government areas. The third tier of government can assist in the dissemination of the TB awareness messages. There is need for urgent and adequate political commitment to ensure that TB drugs reach every part of the country. Since there is huge funding gap to meet, all tiers of government and donor agencies must work in concert to bridge the funding gap and end TB in the country by 2030.