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Progress slow in global fight against tuberculosis, says UN report

Progress slow in global fight against tuberculosis, says UN report

UN Press launch of "Global Tuberculosis Control 2008" in Geneva
A new publication by the United Nations health agency finds that the pace of global efforts to control the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic slowed slightly in 2006, as did progress in diagnosing people with the airborne infectious disease that is both preventable and curable.

Global Tuberculosis Control 2008, released today by the World Health Organization (WHO), reports there were 9.2 million new cases of TB in 2006, including 700,000 cases among people living with HIV, and 500,000 cases of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB).

In addition, an estimated 1.5 million people died from TB in 2006, while another 200,000 people with HIV died from HIV-associated TB.

The 12th annual report, which contains data up to 2006 provided by 202 countries and territories, cites several reasons for the slowdown in progress, including that some successful programmes at the national level have not been able to maintain their efforts at the same pace in recent years. There has also been no increase in the detection of TB cases through national programmes in a number of African countries.

In addition, the public programmes did not take into account many patients that are being treated by private care providers, and by non-governmental (NGOs), faith-based and community organizations.

“We’ve entered a new era,” said Margaret Chan, who stressed the need to strengthen public programmes and to partners with other service providers to step up efforts to combat TB. “Enlisting these other providers, working in partnership with national programmes, will markedly increase diagnosis and treatment for people in need,” the WHO Director-General stated.

Threatening a further slowdown in progress is the fact that rates of MDR-TB, which takes longer to treat and requires more expensive drugs, are at an all-time high, according to WHO, which added that the response to this epidemic has been inadequate.

The deadly combination of TB and HIV, which is fuelling the TB epidemic in many parts of the world, especially Africa, is also posing a threat to global anti-TB efforts. “Clear progress has been made but we must all do more to make a joint approach to reducing TB deaths among people with HIV a reality,” said Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Ahead of World TB Day, observed annually on 24 March, Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop TB, has called for enhanced leadership to address TB and HIV, which is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Several countries have shown that targets relating to TB/HIV are achievable and have put in place measures that will have an impact on the lives of those at most risk. But this is a restless battle. We still need to do much more and much better,” stated Dr. Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal.

The shortage in funding is another factor. Although there has been an increase in resources, particularly from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, TB budgets are not expected to rise this year in nearly all of the most heavily-affected countries, says WHO.