March 24th is World Tuberculosis Day. 37 years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) held the first World Tuberculosis Day to commemorate Dr. Robert Koch’s discovery of the cause of tuberculosis 100 years before. Dr. Koch, known as the founder of modern bacteriology, also discovered the causes of cholera and anthrax, and conducted research leading to Koch’s Postulates, four principles that allow epidemiologists to connect microorganisms to specific diseases. 39 years after Koch’s discovery of the disease, the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis was first used on humans.

Tuberculosis affects nearly ⅓ of the world, meaning that about 2 billion people around the globe have tuberculosis. Though it affects third-world countries more prevalently than developed countries, no country is immune to the disease.

The disease is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, and usually affects the lungs, causing weight loss, chronic cough, night sweats, fever and blood-laced mucus. It is an airborne disease, and thus can be spread easily via sneezes, coughs, and spit. Most cases of the infection are latent and do not cause symptoms, but some latent cases can become symptomatic and eventually lead to death. Because most cases are latent, many people with the disease do not know they have it, as tuberculosis can exist in the human body for years without displaying a single symptom.

To commemorate World Tuberculosis Day, you can get yourself, your family, and your friends tested for tuberculosis. Tuberculosis tests are often required for jobs, but more importantly, if you know you have tuberculosis, you will be able to get proper treatment and also ensure you do not spread the disease to others. You can also get active by raising funds in your own community for tuberculosis research. Between 2000 and 2017, WHO reports that 54 million lives were saved due to proper diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis. However, 3.5 billion U.S. dollars are required to fill the gap in resources needed to implement tuberculosis interventions that already exist. As Girls in Science who are working towards achieving the SDGs, we should all take the simple step of being tested for tuberculosis, as this will help us come even closer to achieving SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being.

Check out WHO’s tuberculosis page here:


Julie Levey is a 17-year-old girl in science and aspiring doctor from New York, NY. When she is not leading her school's Science Team or interning at Mt. Sinai Hospital, she can be found writing for The Jewish Week and performing in concerts and plays.

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