In 2010, 8.8 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million died, both marking a notable decline compared to years prior, the United Nations health agency said in releasing its 2011 Global Tuberculosis Control Report.
"This is major progress. But it is no cause for complacency." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. "Too many millions still develop TB each year, and too many die. I urge serious and sustained support for TB prevention and care, especially for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people."
About a third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacteria, but only a small portion ever develop the disease.
The number of TB-infected people peaked in 2005, when 9 million became sick. The death toll peaked at 1.8 million in 2003, according to the WHO.
The TB bacteria destroys patients' lung tissue, causing them to cough up the bacteria, which then spreads through the air and can be inhaled by others. If untreated, each person with active TB can infect on average 10 to 15 people a year.
"In many countries, strong leadership and domestic financing, with robust donor support, has started to make a real difference in the fight against TB," said WHO's Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in a statement.
In China alone, the TB death toll fell by nearly 80 percent to 55,000 people in 2010 compared to 1990.
Globally, the TB death rate dropped 40 percent in 2010 compared to 1990, and all regions except Africa were on track to reach a 50 percent mortality decline by 2015.