We commemorate World Tuberculosis (TB) Day each year on March 24 to raise awareness about the health, social and economic consequences of TB and to advance efforts to end the global TB epidemic. This year, the global theme is “Yes! We Can End TB”.
Despite being both preventable and curable, TB remains one of the most common and deadly infectious diseases worldwide. While the rates of active TB in Canada are among the lowest in the world, Indigenous Peoples and Canadians born in countries where TB is more common continue to be disproportionately impacted.
Globally, Canada is working with international partners to end the worldwide TB epidemic as set out by the United Nations. In September 2022, the Government of Canada committed $1.21 billion to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria
In Canada, we are working collaboratively with Indigenous governments and organizations, territorial and provincial governments, impacted communities, and health and non-health partners, on ways to provide better TB prevention and care services.
The TB burden is disproportionately higher among Indigenous Peoples in Canada, specifically among Inuit with the incidence of reported cases in 2021 being 135.1 per 100,000 population and among First Nations with the respective rate of 16.1. Comparatively, the Canadian-born non-Indigenous population have an incidence of only 0.2 per 100,000 population. These unacceptably high rates reflect the lasting effects of Canada’s colonial history, through which inequity and socioeconomic factors are contributing to the disparities. Additionally, stigma and discrimination against those with the disease can exacerbate existing anti-Indigenous racism and further contribute to poor mental health, including low self-esteem and anxiety.
Our shared commitment to end TB in Inuit Nunangat by 2030 requires sustained efforts and collaboration across all levels of government and relevant partners. In 2022, after the Government of Nunavut requested public health nurses to assist communities with TB outbreaks, the Government of Canada worked closely with the Alberta Health Services to deploy nurses as needed in Nunavut to help combat the disease, in addition to sharing surge capacity lists as additional resources for the territory’s use.
Our regular investments have supported the purchase of advanced rapid TB diagnostic technology for Inuit communities and maintained a supply of rifapentine to ensure rapid access to TB treatment for Indigenous Peoples across Canada. We are actively reviewing new and innovative ways to continue the push toward eliminating TB. Through important partnerships with healthcare professionals and First Nations and Inuit, we also help support Indigenous-led, community-based TB activities and programs that prioritize cultural safety, traditional knowledge, and the unique needs of the populations most at risk.
Through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Canada has invested approximately $30 million over the last five years to support TB research, including projects to improve TB prevention and care services in Nunavik and research to improve rapid diagnosis in rural and remote communities. Looking ahead, CIHR is funding a wide range of TB research including a project exploring the impacts of air pollution on latent and active tuberculosis, a project aiming to improve the performance of TB vaccines, and a project studying how medications used to treat and prevent HIV infection affect a person’s risk of tuberculosis.
This is just part of the important work that is underway to improve culturally safe and appropriate awareness, prevention, detection, and treatment of this preventable disease. Together, with continued research and collaboration among scientists, health professionals, and community members across the country, we can end TB.