A new Union-WDF report calls TB-diabetes a looming epidemic

TB-diabetes is a looming co-epidemic that we need to address now, before it has a chance to take root in countries and cause sickness and death on a large scale.

Having diabetes triples the risk that a person will develop tuberculosis (TB)—and diabetes is skyrocketing around the world. The numbers of people with diabetes around the world is projected to increase from 382 million in 2013 to 592 in 2035. At the same time, diabetes is also moving from developed countries into developing countries. By 2035, 80 percent of people suffering from diabetes are going to be living in low- and middle-income countries.

This means that diabetes is increasingly going to cause people to develop tuberculosis. Five of the top 10 countries projected to have the greatest numbers of people living with diabetes by 2035 are countries with high burdens of tuberculosis.

Today, The Union and the World Diabetes Foundation released a new report, The Looming Co-epidemic of TB-Diabetes: A Call to Action, on the opening day of the 45th World Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona, Spain. The report synthesizes the scientific evidence on how TB and diabetes are working together, promotes a global policy framework developed by the World Health Organization and The Union, for addressing the two diseases together. It also lays out a research agenda to help fill knowledge gaps. One of the most important parts of a response is for health systems to screen people living with TB for diabetes and people living with diabetes for TB. After finding high rates of diabetes among people living with TB, India became the first country in the world to develop a national policy for addressing the two diseases together.

We know from history that we must mobilize action now, before the co-epidemic really takes hold. In sub-Saharan Africa, especially, HIV/AIDS caused TB to skyrocket. The world was slow to take action, despite having a wealth of clear evidence and a policy framework to guide response. Many people died in the meantime. It’s a dark past that, when it comes to TB and diabetes, we must make sure to not repeat.