UN agencies warn that Africa's TB cases will grow as HIV spreads
The number of cases of tuberculosis (TB) in Africa -- already in the millions -- will double over the next decade as HIV continues to spread across the continent, the United Nations warned today, calling for a concurrent effort to fight both infectious diseases.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) predicted that the number of TB cases in Africa will reach 3.3 million by 2005 and surpass 4 million shortly thereafter.
These alarming figures are contained in a report to be presented later this week at the Africa Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Infectious Diseases, in Abuja, Nigeria. The report shows a 10 per cent rise in the number of TB cases on the continent each year because of HIV.
"There is an urgent need to address TB and HIV together," said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "Reducing transmission of HIV will reduce the epidemic of TB."
"Tuberculosis is a leading killer of people living with HIV/AIDS," observed WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. She noted that up to 50 per cent of people with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa develop TB. "This is one of the reasons why the control of TB and HIV in Africa is so interdependent."
WHO and UNAIDS recommend a rapid expansion of a strategy known as DOTS, which uses community workers to ensure that patients are taking their TB medication. The agencies point out that increasing the availability of DOTS in Africa will have the added benefit of organizing community health systems for the future provision of anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV.
Both Dr. Piot and Dr. Brundtland will attend the Abuja Summit, where UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to make a major address outlining key priorities in the fight against AIDS. A spokesman for Mr. Annan said today that the Secretary-General was scheduled to arrive in Abuja on Wednesday, following a brief personal visit to his home country, Ghana.
In his speech on Thursday, the Secretary-General is expected to call for a major mobilization of political will and resources commensurate with the enormity of the AIDS crisis. According to UN officials, he will focus on priority aspects of the battle against AIDS, including prevention, care and treatment.