Every year, March 24th is an opportunity to raise awareness about the health, social and economic impacts of tuberculosis (TB). Today, on World TB Day 2023, the theme “Yes! We can end TB!” is a message of hope and encouragement for high-level leadership, action and collaboration.
As we head into the 2023 United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB later this year, I am encouraged by the upcoming global discussions on advancing science, finance and innovation to urgently end the global TB epidemic, with a focus on ensuring equitable access to prevention, testing, treatment and care. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in setbacks on progress related to efforts to end TB. This meeting is a timely opportunity to undertake a review of where we are now and most importantly, identify gaps and solutions for the path forward to end TB.
In Canada, over 1,900 people were diagnosed with active TB disease in 2021. While Canada’s overall incidence remains low (5.0 cases per 100,000 population), national TB rates have remained unchanged for over a decade. TB continues to disproportionately impact people born outside Canada and Indigenous Peoples. In particular, TB rates remain unacceptably high among Inuit, reflecting their unique experiences with TB, a long history of social inequities and the ongoing impacts of colonization.
The solutions to this complex social disease need to be community-centered and developed in partnership with impacted communities. There is an urgent need to strengthen our collaborative efforts across jurisdictions to end TB in Canada, including leveraging enhanced and improved ways of working together demonstrated throughout our COVID-19 response. These include enhanced linkages with research networks to inform decision-making, multi-sectoral action to address social inequities and collaboration with provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments and organizations.
This World TB Day, I encourage everyone to learn more about TB and listen to the stories of TB survivors. I urge all health workers and public health professionals providing tuberculosis services to read: An introductory guide to tuberculosis care to improve cultural competence for health care workers and public health professionals serving Indigenous Peoples of Canada. From learning about the history of TB in Indigenous communities, acknowledging the role of colonization, invisible barriers, personal and systemic racism and privilege as they relate to health equity, respecting self-determination, to understanding that each Indigenous group – First Nations, Inuit and Métis – is historically and culturally distinct with unique strengths, challenges and health needs, this important chapter of the Canadian TB Standards is relevant and valuable for everyone providing public health and health care services in Canada.
Thank you to the incredibly dedicated TB community for supporting people impacted by TB, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has shown us what we can achieve when we work together and what could be possible for TB: this treatable and curable disease can be eliminated through collaborative action. Together, we can end TB.