Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Targets for tuberculosis control: how confident can we be about the data?

Marieke J van der Werf, Martien W Borgdorff

The targets of tuberculosis (TB) control programmes are to detect 70% of new sputum smear-positive cases of TB and to cure 85% of these. The Stop TB Partnership has set additional targets related to the Millennium Development Goals: to halve TB prevalence and mortality between 1990 and 2015. This paper assesses how confident we can be about the data on TB case detection, cure rates, prevalence and mortality. Countries were grouped into those with good, limited or poor information on the burden of TB (based on notification data, population surveys and vital registration systems). Of 211 countries with a total population of 6.4 billion and an estimated 8.9 million cases of TB, 27 countries with a total population of 2.2 billion and an estimated 1.8 million cases of TB had estimates based on good information (i.e. a good-quality surveillance system detecting > 70% of all cases, or a good-quality TB prevalence survey). Of the 22 countries with a high burden of TB and bearing 80% of the global burden, none had a good surveillance system in 1997. Vital registration systems were good in 81 countries with a total population of 2.7 billion. This paper suggests that globally and in the 22 countries with a high burden of TB there is considerable uncertainty about indicators to measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Routine surveillance and vital registration systems need to be strengthened. We recommend that national TB prevalence surveys be performed in selected high-burden countries, in Africa in particular.