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UN hails progress in fighting tuberculosis and urges increased efforts

UN hails progress in fighting tuberculosis and urges increased efforts

Top United Nations officials marked World Tuberculosis Day today by hailing a “significant milestone” in treating 10 million patients under an international programme but also calling for increased efforts to reach the global goal of detecting 70 per cent of all infectious TB cases and curing 85 per cent of those detected by 2005.

“TB can be controlled, cured and prevented,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message.

He noted that more people die from TB than from any other curable infectious disease in the world – some 2 million every year – 98 per cent of them in developing countries. One third of the world’s population is infected with the TB bacillus.

Recalling that roughly 10 million patients have successfully completed treatment under the Directly Observed Therapy Short-Course (DOTS) strategy since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared TB a global emergency 10 years ago, he hailed the programme as “one of the world’s most cost-effective public health interventions, which has not only saved lives, but has also helped to reduce the relentless spread of TB infection.

“On World Tuberculosis Day, let us pledge to do more to strengthen and expand DOTS programmes in order to meet the global targets of detecting 70 per cent of all infectious TB cases and curing 85 per cent of those detected by 2005,” Mr. Annan said.

Also hailing the strategy, WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland declared: "The treatment and cure of so many people under DOTS has saved millions of lives and is slowing the spread of infection. But now we must accelerate our efforts. With additional funding for TB control programmes, especially in the 22 high-burden countries that account for 80 per cent of global cases, we could expect to see a worldwide reduction in the sickness and death caused by TB within three years."

WHO noted of the 10 million patients successfully treated under DOTS, more than 90 per cent live in developing countries where the disease causes the most suffering, economic loss and death.

According to the WHO Global Tuberculosis Control Report for 2003, released today, growth in the global incidence rate of TB has slowed to 0.4 per cent per year. The number of countries that have adopted the DOTS strategy has grown to 155 of 192 WHO Member States, and more than 60 per cent of the world's population now has access to DOTS services. China and India, which together account for nearly 40 per cent of all TB cases, have made remarkable progress in quickly expanding population coverage while maintaining high cure rates.

But the report finds the TB epidemic is still growing unabated in sub-Saharan Africa – where it is closely linked to HIV/AIDS and poverty – and in many of the new states arising after the break-up of the Soviet Union, where it is exacerbated by poverty and social disruption. In some high-HIV countries of sub-Saharan Africa, TB rates have quadrupled since the mid-1980s and threaten to overwhelm well-established control programs.

"TB and HIV have become intertwined epidemics, increasing their devastating impact on communities world-wide," said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). "Effectively treating TB will not solve the AIDS crisis, but will save lives and ultimately reduce the burden of AIDS on societies."