However, TB still claims approximately 4,000 lives each day, despite humans having a cure since 1948. As an airborne disease, TB can be passed along very easily from one person to another. This is what gave rise to the TB pandemic of the last two centuries which, by some estimates, is said to have killed one billion people between the years 1800 and 2000.
It was in the 1950s that the “search-treat-prevent” approach was developed to stop TB. Mass community-based testing was initiated, often using mobile x-ray vans. Affected individuals were isolated and treated, and preventative measures were applied within the community to limit further spreading — much like the isolation and social distancing we practice today. This approach was used in developed countries where TB infections have now dropped markedly.
“Covid-19 has demonstrated that our health systems face an important gap in their ability to test and treat people for disease in the communities where they live and work. In many parts of the world this is exacerbated by poverty,” said Dr Keshavjee.
One hope lies in the success of alliances such as the Zero TB Initiative, said Keshavjee. The initiative is run in part by the department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University and was formed to assist cities, districts, and countries to adopt the search-treat-prevent approach to epidemic control using community-based healthcare delivery platforms.
“The platform needed for TB will not only help us deal better with outbreaks like coronavirus, but it will also help us fill the health delivery gap for so many other diseases,” Keshavjee said. “That’s the strategy that I think can have an exponential impact in our lives and the lives of so many people, if we do it right and if we do it soon.”