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Study shows World TB Day effective in raising awareness of tuberculosis but gaps remain

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Results show that World TB Day raises the worldwide awareness of TB, although for some specific high-burden countries the trend is more erratic.

A recent study quantified the impact of World Tuberculosis (TB) Day (WTBD) using internet-based data, with results showing that WTBD raises the worldwide awareness of TB, although for some specific high-burden countries the trend is more erratic.

The study, published this month in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IJTLD), quantified the impact of WTBD using internet-based data over a 13-year period, both by individual year and overall as a trend. Results showed that significantly more searches were performed worldwide for the topic “tuberculosis” in the four weeks surrounding WTBD, compared to the rest of the year, with the authors concluding that WTBD raises the worldwide awareness of TB.

This trend had a more erratic pattern, however, in the seven countries with the highest incidence of TB, highlighting the need for more action to increase awareness in high-incidence countries. This may be due to the interplay of other factors in these countries, such as: poor general knowledge about TB; populations having fewer resources and less internet access; all year round educational strategies decreasing the relative impact of WTBD; decreasing concern about TB as a consequence of a decrease in the incidence of the disease; or greater access to the internet resulting in dilution of the relative frequency of TB searches.

Such analysis is a valid, cost-effective tool to assess the effectiveness of campaigns such as WTBD on digital information-seeking. It has the potential to assess the impact of global campaigns, or the tweaking of country-specific initiatives.  

There are now well over 100 international days currently being observed by the United Nations (UN). The World Health Organization (WHO) says: “Global public health days offer great potential to raise awareness and understanding about health issues and mobilise support for action, from the local community to the international stage.”

Last September, The Union’s President, Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, addressed the high-level leadership at the first-ever UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on TB. He highlighted the role of WTBD as a very important day for public education and for advocacy. However, he also raised the point that “when there is so little awareness of TB among the public, a day dedicated to advocacy is simply not enough.

“I want to suggest that we declare the month of March as TB Prevention Month. By designating an entire month, we will have more time and opportunities for coordinated advocacy and outreach. We can officially designate the time and space we need to educate our leaders, engage partners, and mobilise our communities in the fight against TB.”

Some organisations and countries have already adopted longer annual TB awareness campaigns. This year the TB Alliance promoted events throughout the entire month of March to mark WTBD 2019. In South Africa and Zambia, the Governments promoted TB Awareness Month as being 1 to 31 March 2019. In the Philippines, National Tuberculosis Month is in August each year.  

Earlier in 2018, Dr Tereza Kasaeva, the director of WHO’s Global TB Programme, said in an interview with HuffPost “The idea is that we should not only be active on World TB Day,” Kasaeva said. “A day should become a week, a week should become month, a month should become a year.”

The first WTBD was held on 24 March 1982 to commemorate the discovery of M. tuberculosis by Professor Robert Koch one hundred years previous. At that time, The Union proposed that 24 March be proclaimed an official World TB Day. However, it wasn’t until 1996, more than a decade later, that WHO declared 24 March as the official day to commemorate TB and its victims, and an opportunity to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of TB. Over the subsequent decades, it has also become an opportunity to raise political and social awareness in the fight to end TB.

The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IJTLD) is the official publication of The Union. It is distributed in over 165 countries world-wide. Further information about the journal and how to take out a subscription is available on The Union website.