Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that usually affects the lungs but can also attack any other part of the body. It is often transmitted by coughing or sneezing.

Even though TB is preventable and curable, it is still a leading cause of death worldwide.

  • Every second someone is infected with TB
  • In 2007 an estimated 1.32 million HIV-negative people and 456,000 HIV-positive people died from TB

The poor suffer most

Tuberculosis is a disease of poverty. While it can be treated easily with antibiotics, many of the people affected cannot afford these drugs. If left untreated, each person with active TB will infect an average of 10 to 15 people per year – most of whom cannot afford treatment either. An estimated 34 per cent of all cases are in South-East Asia, and the highest number of TB deaths is in Africa.

Drug resistance makes the fight difficult

Tuberculosis can be cured in 85 per cent of all cases, but it is essential that the treatment is completed and managed properly. If not, there is a high risk that the bacteria that cause TB will become resistant to the drugs. In the last few years, strains of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) have become a serious problem.

The deadly combination of TB and HIV

Tuberculosis is an opportunistic disease that takes advantage of people whose immune system is already weakened. Many people living with HIV get infected by TB and die.

The African region accounted for the most HIV-positive TB cases (79%) followed by the South-East Asia region (mainly India) with 11% of total cases (figures from WHO global tuberculosis report 2009.)

What does the IFRC do?

Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers are involved at all levels in the fight against TB. Living in the affected communities they are best placed to:

  • identify vulnerable groups
  • provide effective health education
  • find those in need of treatment

Additionally, our volunteers provide social care after the first phase of treatment. Activities include:

  • making sure that patients follow the treatment
  • helping patients to get enough good quality food
  • being there for patients when they have questions or need someone to talk to

These activities significantly increase the percentage of people who can be cured of TB.

National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies also communicate with national authorities, policy-makers and the public to ensure that the necessary resources are available to control TB.


Read the new brochure on tuberculosis.