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Rate of epidemic’s decline too slow, says Ban on World TB Day

Rate of epidemic’s decline too slow, says Ban on World TB Day

TB patient signs a register after taking his medication
A new United Nations report notes that the percentage of the global population falling ill to tuberculosis is dropping annually, but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that the pace of the disease’s decline is too slow and that efforts to combat it are “falling short.”

In a message marking World TB Day, Mr. Ban said that although strides have been made, the “rate of decline is far too slow,” with the disease claiming a life every 20 seconds.

“Millions of people are benefiting from treatment through coordinated national efforts, but millions more are still missing out,” he said, cautioning that “unless we accelerate action, the numbers of those falling ill will continue to grow.”

The report released today by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) notes that the total number of new cases in 2007 has stabilized, up to 9.27 million from 9.24 million the year before.

Rates reached their peak at 142 cases per 100,000 people in 2004, but have decreased to 137 per 100,000 people in 2007.

The Secretary-General stressed the need to intensify the fight against multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), as well as the TB/HIV co-epidemic.

The new WHO study reveals that one-quarter of all TB deaths are HIV-related, twice as many as previous recognized. In 2007, 1.37 million people living with HIV fell ill to TB.

“These findings point to an urgent need to find, prevent and treat tuberculosis in people living with HIV and to test for HIV in all patients in order to provide prevention, treatment and care,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, urging countries to step up cooperation to combat both diseases.

There has been a steep climb in testing for HIV among people being treated for TB, especially in Africa, the report notes. In 2004, only 4 per cent of TB patients in the region were tested for HIV, but that has surged to 37 per cent in 2007.

“We have to stop people living with HIV from dying of tuberculosis,” said Michel Sidibé, who heads the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), underscoring the need for universal access to HIV prevention and treatment to include TB prevention, diagnosis and care.

“When HIV and TB services are combined, they save lives,” the UNAIDS chief said.

In his message today, Mr. Ban welcomed the commitments made by governments, multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, the private sector, academia and researchers to halt and reverse the spread of the disease and press ahead with efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline.

“In this time of economic crisis, we must protect investments in global health, particularly to protect the most vulnerable,” he said, calling for partnership and innovation to “prevent disease, save lives and enable communities to thrive.”