About Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. Left untreated a TB-positive patient can infect other people and will most likely die.

why we need to fight tuberculosis

Number of new TB infections in 2020


People missed by global health systems in 2020


People who died from TB in 2020



Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that most often affects the lungs. The WHO estimates that one-third of the world population is infected with TB. While TB is latent in most people who never develop symptoms, the bacteria become active when the immune system is weakened, causing harmful symptoms and likely death. Common symptoms of active TB are coughing with blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.

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During her pregnancy with Ramadhani, Sharifa fell sick with an unknown illness that the clinics couldn't diagnose. Read how APOPO identified her TB.

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The WHO has listed 30 countries with a “High TB-Burden” including Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia where APOPO carries out operational research. In many countries, the conventional method of diagnosing tuberculosis is inadequate resulting in a poor rate of TB decline.

According to the Global tuberculosis report, TB deaths in 2020 increased for the first time in over a decade, going up to as high as 1.5 million, an upward trend that is expected to worsen in 2021. To make matters worse, in 2020 we saw only 5.8 million people diagnosed and treated with TB, down from 7.1 million in 2019.

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In most sub-Saharan African countries, just under half of patients with active tuberculosis are diagnosed due to the slow speeds of conventional diagnostic methods, underfunding of clinics and lack of trained staff.

Only 58% of all TB-positive patients were correctly diagnosed in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic combined with low political will and very low levels of funding have reversed hard-fought gains in the fight against this age-old disease.


Poor health care and access to health facilities prevent or delay TB diagnosis among infected populations.  In turn, the lack of fast and accurate diagnosis delays treatment and facilitates the disease progression and transmission to patients’ family and community.

About 4.2 million people in 2020 had difficulty accessing effective public health services, were left undiagnosed or missed and did not get TB treatment. One person can spread the disease to around 15 people in a year.

APOPO's TB-Detection research

APOPO carries out continued research into TB detection rats using samples from partner clinics. Rat-suspect samples are rechecked using WHO endorsed methods and any TB-positive confirmations are passed back to the clinics. This means more TB-positive people who were missed by clinics, can receive life saving treatment before they can infect others and prolong the tuberculosis vicious cycle.


Tuberculosis is a disease that is relatively easy to treat. Most patients can be cured through medication and they recover after a standard six-month course of four antimicrobial drugs that are supplied with information, supervision and support by a health worker or trained volunteer. But if not treated properly or at early stage, tuberculosis can have a devastating impact on a person’s health and likely lead to death as well as putting others at risk.