It’s preventable, it’s curable, and yet it kills over two people every hour in Ethiopia.
It is the tuberculosis bacteria (TB), and it is one of the most destructive pathogens on the planet, killing more people every year than HIV and malaria combined. March 24 is World Tuberculosis Day, and the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, through its implementing bodies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is re-committing itself to the Government of Ethiopia’s goal to end TB across the nation by 2030.
2023 promises to be an auspicious year for the fight against TB. After decades of neglecting the disease, the scientific community has developed a wide range of tools, treatments, and tactics to combat TB and its multi-drug-resistant relatives. We have faster and more accurate machines to diagnose TB cases; we have stronger and more effective medicines; and we have a wide range of innovative approaches to detect, diagnose, and treat TB cases across the country.
Given these new developments, even one TB death in Ethiopia is an unbearable tragedy, let alone the 19,000 deaths we saw in 2022. The biggest challenge we face is detecting the disease before it is too late. Because the bacteria hide in the body’s hard-to-reach lymph nodes, it can incubate for months, sometimes years, before an infected person even knows they have TB.
We estimate that about 30 percent of TB cases go undetected by the healthcare system, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Last year, approximately 145,000 Ethiopians contracted TB.
Thankfully, the approach to fighting TB we have developed hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Health is working, and we estimate more than 2.3 million lives have been saved since the US government began investing in the fight to end this century-old disease in Ethiopia. In just over 20 years, TB cases have dropped by 70 percent, but the job is not done yet.
The American people reiterate our commitment to fighting TB in Ethiopia with three important goals. First, with a stronger investment in detection, by 2030 we will reduce the overall number of cases by 35 percent. Second, with cutting-edge medicines and treatments, we will save the lives of 50 percent more TB patients than today.
Finally, by 2030, we will successfully detect, treat, and cure 90 percent of all TB cases across Ethiopia.
We are committed to these goals and to building a national TB program that will continue to succeed without foreign assistance. In close collaboration and cooperation with our donors and our longstanding partners in the Ministry of Health, we will win the fight against TB in Ethiopia.
Caroline Ryan is the country director of the CDC. Sean Jones is the mission director of USAID.
Contributed by Caroline Ryan and Sean Jones