Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world. Every year, close to 10 million people become ill with TB and more than a million die from the disease, mainly in developing countries.

Today, TB is the leading killer infectious disease, followed by malaria and HIV/AIDS.

“How is it possible that more than 60 years ago, we managed to send people to the moon and to the deepest point in the ocean, yet people affected with one of the most ancient diseases in human history continue to suffer and die because we’ve failed to find a fast, safe and simple cure for tuberculois (TB)? All it would take to have a faster, safer, simpler cure for TB is for governments to care enough to make it a political priority. World leaders must take collective responsibility to fight this global health emergency, so we don’t keep losing one fellow human to TB every 18 seconds.”  — Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. 

Download the MSF Access Campaign's Fact Sheet on on TB 

TB is often thought of as a disease of the past, but a recent resurgence and alarming rise in cases of drug-resistant (DR-TB) and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) make it very much an issue of the present day and age. Drug resistance – when TB does not respond to the customary first-line drugs – can result from inappropriate or incorrect use of antimicrobial drugs, premature treatment interruption and, increasingly, from person-to-person transmission.

From the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International Activity Report:

16,500: people started on first-line treatment for TB in MSF programs last year

2,840: people started on drug-resistant treatment in MSF programs last year 

Years of war and a fragile health system have left many people without access to treatment for chronic infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) in South Sudan, where about 14,000 cases are reported every year, according to WHO. In the neighboring country, Sudan, the number of detected cases is higher, 20,000, although the population is about four times bigger. If left untreated, TB severely weakens people and can be fatal. TB is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide.

Over recent years, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has integrated the diagnosis and treatment of TB into some of its medical programs in Sudan and South Sudan in order to help tackle this disease, treating refugees, internally displaced people and local communities. New and innovative tools, such as the point-of-care-ultrasound (Pocus) and GeneXpert, are making it easier to diagnose TB better and faster.

Tuberculosis: MSF protests price of life-saving drug as J&J release earnings

MSF protested in front of the New York Stock Exchange in New York today, demanding the pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson (J&J) make the tuberculosis (TB) drug bedaquiline available for all people with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) for no more than a dollar a day. The price of this crucial drug must be lowered to reflect the joint contributions made in the research and development of this drug by taxpayers, and the global scientific and TB community, including by MSF itself. 

MSF launches global campaign urging Johnson & Johnson to reduce price of life-saving drug

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched a global campaign today calling on pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to lower the price of its anti-tuberculosis (TB) medicine bedaquiline to no more than US$1 per day for people everywhere who need it, in order to allow scale-up of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) treatment and reduce deaths. MSF demands this price cut considering the joint contributions made in the development of this drug, including MSF contributions. MSF was joined by TB activists and civil society in protests outside of J&J offices in the US, South Africa, Brazil, Belgium, Ukraine and Spain, demanding the corporation make the drug available for people with DR-TB for no more than “a dollar a day”.

“Bedaquiline was developed using taxpayer money and contributions from the global TB community,” said Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB policy advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Those who contributed to bedaquiline’s development should have a say in how the drug is priced. We’re calling on J&J to price bedaquiline at no more than $1 per day so that it can be made available to all people with drug-resistant TB. We will not back down until the price of bedaquiline is brought down.”

MSF calls on US pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson to cut key TB drug price in half

October 23, 2018 — People with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) continue to be deprived of today’s best-possible treatment in part because of high drug prices, according to a new report — DR-TB Drugs Under the Microscope — released today by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health in The Hague, the Netherlands.

MSF called, in particular, on US pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to cut the price of the newer TB drug bedaquiline in half, so more lives can be saved.

In August 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended expanding use of bedaquiline (produced by J&J) by making it a core drug for treatment of DR-TB, while at the same time relegating drugs that need to be injected daily— and can cause deafness, renal failures and other severe side effects—to last-resort options only. This change dramatically increases the number of people who should receive bedaquiline, and requires national TB treatment programs to scale it up as part of the DR-TB treatment they provide. Despite the expected benefits, high prices remain a significant barrier.

If effective TB drugs remain priced out of reach, 'people will continue to suffer' “Our analysis clearly shows that the high price of the two newer TB drugs makes today’s best-possible treatment much more expensive than previous treatment regimens,” said Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “These newer TB drugs will save more lives, benefit programs and make this arduous treatment more tolerable for people, but if they remain priced out of reach, they will not serve their purpose and the expected gains will not be achieved. Unless pharmaceutical corporations lower their prices substantially, people will continue to suffer without access to safer and more effective treatment.”

J&J received substantial taxpayer money from the US and other governments for the development of bedaquiline, and therefore has a clear responsibility to make sure the public gets a return on this investment by making the drug affordable for everyone who needs it. To ensure the drug is accessible to all, MSF called on J&J to issue a non-exclusive license to the Medicines Patent Pool to allow for price-lowering competition among generic producers.

    MSF's response following the UN High Level Meeting on TB

    On September 26, 2018, world leaders and delegates attended the United Nations' first-ever High Level Meeting on Tuberculosis. MSF had called for leaders to use the meeting to commit to urgent action in the global fight against the TB epidemic, and had urged  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to attend.

    Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB advisor for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) Access Campaign, made the following statement today following the first-ever United Nations High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis (TB):

    “The good news is this historic meeting happened at a time when the world is equipped with new, more effective medicines and diagnostics to fight TB and has a real shot at radically improving treatment and the lives of people affected by this global health emergency–a disease that killed 1.6 million people in 2017 alone.

    The bad news is that global leaders failed, once again, to make people with TB a priority, further stalling progress in this fight. Out of the 193 UN member states, fewer than 30 leaders chose to attend the meeting today. Leaders missing from this critical meeting include many from high-burden TB countries and donors that have been promising to help fund the fight to ‘end TB.’ Shame on the more than 160 leaders who were absent today.

    But just because the cameras are off and leaders have stepped off the world stage doesn’t mean they can return to business as usual. They have to take advantage of this momentum and truly commit to significantly increasing investments and mobilizing the research community to develop new medical tools to more effectively tackle the world’s deadliest infectious disease—for the ten million people who develop TB each year still desperately waiting for a fast, safe, and simple cure.”

    Why Canada should take the lead at the UN's High Level Meeting on TB: MSF Canada's Joe Belliveau and Jason Nickerson in the Toronto Star

    On September 17, the Toronto Star published an op-ed written by MSF Canada Executive Director Joe Belliveau and Humanitarian Affairs Advisor Jason Nickerson calling on Canada to step up and match our government's words with action at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB in New York on September 26, 2018.

    "Now is the time for action. After years of political indifference, the United Nations will host the first-ever High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis this month: world leaders will gather in New York on Sept. 26 to discuss how they can close the global gap in access to TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment. We are urging Canada to step up and take the lead. Domestically, Canada’s government is already responding, and has pledged to eliminate TB in the country’s Far North by 2030. This is a welcome step forward. But without also addressing the larger global challenge, these efforts alone will not be enough. Here’s why: More than 10 million people around the world contract TB each year. Uncomplicated forms of the disease are treatable, but deadlier and drug-resistant forms of TB are spreading widely."

    Speaking out for patients worldwide: How Canada can step up in the fight against TB

    In the Summer 2018 issue of Dispatches, the MSF Canada magazine, Canadian humanitarian affairs advisor Jason Nickerson writes that this country can and should play a unique role in helping to end the global TB epidemic.

    "In March, Canada’s government, alongside the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, announced a commitment to eliminate TB across Inuit Nunangat by 2030 and to reduce the incidence of active TB by at least 50 per cent by 2025. These kinds of specific time-bound targets for eliminating TB are what other countries should be implementing, and Canada can show leadership by pushing its allies to make similar commitments. But achieving these targets will be impossible without the medical tools to get us there. We need countries with productive biomedical research and innovation capabilities, like Canada, to step up for TB and commit to developing the medicines, diagnostics and vaccines that we need to end the pandemic quickly."

    Tuberculosis Facts

    Transmission: TB is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that are spread through the air when infected people cough or sneeze. While anyone can be infected with TB, people with weakened immune systems are at particular risk of developing active TB. People living with HIV are more likely to develop active TB and accounted for 1.2 million (11%) of all new TB cases in 2015.

    Signs and symptoms: Most people exposed to TB never develop symptoms, since the bacteria can live in an inactive form in the body. The disease most often affects the lungs. Symptoms include a persistent cough, fever, weight loss, chest pain and breathlessness in the lead-up to death.

    Diagnosis: In countries where TB is most prevalent, diagnosis depends largely on the microscopic examination of sputum, or lung fluid, for the TB bacilli. The test is only accurate half of the time, even less so for patients who also have HIV.

    Treatment: A course of treatment for uncomplicated TB takes six months. Treatment for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is especially arduous, taking up to two years and causing many side effects. When patients show resistance to MDR-TB drugs, they are considered to have extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) and have even fewer treatment options.

    Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international humanitarian medical organization that delivers emergency care to people affected by violence, disease, disaster or neglect in more than 70 countries around the world. We rely almost entirely on financial support from private, individual donors, rather than from governments or large institutions, which allows us to remain committed to the core humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality — and to always act quickly, effectively and independently when emergencies occur.