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World Tuberculosis Day 2024: new vaccines needed to tackle disease burden

World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is marked annually on 24 March, the anniversary of the discovery of the causative mycobacterium by Dr Robert Koch.

The day aims to raise awareness about the devastating health, social, and economic consequences of the disease, which remains a global pandemic with 1.8 billion people estimated to be infected with the bacteria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It is one of the leading causes of death from an infectious agent and therefore efforts are very much needed to eradicate the pathogen.

This year’s theme – ‘Yes! We can end TB!’ – conveys the message that there is hope in making this a possibility.

Focusing on prevention and early diagnosis is key to achieving this goal.

Governments worldwide must come together to combat this deadly disease. Through increased investments, improved awareness, and adoption of WHO recommendations, it is possible to reduce the burden of TB over time.

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TB is an infectious disease that most commonly affects the lungs, although it can spread to other organs too, including the brain or kidneys.

It exists in both a latent and active form; the latent type does not express any symptoms and is not transmissible unless it develops into the active type.

The lifetime risk of this is approximately 5-10% for latently infected persons.

Symptoms of active TB include a chronic cough, bloody mucus, fever, and fatigue, among others.

Screening for TB can be done via several methods, including a skin test and a blood test, and early diagnosis can stop the further spread of the disease.

It is important that the infection is treated promptly, and this is usually done via administration of antibiotics for a minimum of six months (with latent TB only requiring a three-to-six-month regimen).

Ensuring the antibiotic courses are completed is vital to prevent antibiotic resistance.

Good hygiene and isolation from those most at risk of severe infection can help prevent the spread.

In addition to this, the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine is currently the only prophylactic on the market.

It is given to babies in countries where TB is common. In areas where TB is less common, it is only given to those at high risk, including those who are more likely to be exposed to the bacterium.

The BCG vaccine is up to 80% effective at preventing TB infection for up to 15 years in young children and thus has huge beneficial effects.

However, it provides poor protection against pulmonary TB in adolescents and adults. Therefore, there is a need for updated and improved prophylactic vaccines.

According to leading data and analytics company GlobalData, there are 11 vaccines in late-stage development (including Phase II, Phase III, and preregistration) for TB globally.

These include the Gamaleya Federal Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology’s GamTBvac, a recombinant subunit vaccine, and the University of Zaragoza’s MTBVAC, the first live attenuated TB vaccine.

Both of these candidates are currently in Phase III development and have demonstrated positive safety and efficacy results in clinical trials.

Progress in this area has the potential to save countless lives, as well as reduce the health and socioeconomic burden associated with this disease.