Health ministers from countries suffering the highest burden of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases have agreed to a series of measures aimed at accelerating efforts to stop and reverse the global epidemic, at a United Nations-backed meeting in China.
Representatives of 27 countries with a high incidence of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) are meeting in Beijing for a three-day conference organized by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), China’s Ministry of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to secure funding and action to combat the spread of MDR-TB and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB).
Delegates, including Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and Bill Gates, kicked off the gathering yesterday, with WHO Director General Margaret Chan stressing that preventing and managing drug-resistant strains of TB was a health imperative for the whole world.
“We need high-level political attention because national TB programmes cannot by themselves manage these new threats. The problem has become too great,” said Ms. Chan.
Only three per cent of the estimated new 500,000 multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases each year are known to be receiving treatment according to WHO guidelines. Four countries represented at the meeting – China, India, Russia and South Africa, who account for 60 per cent of the world’s MDR-TB – have increased their financing to back measures controlling the disease.
Participants also called for measures such as moving towards universal access to M/XDR-TB diagnosis and treatment by 2015, ensuring a sufficient supply of high-quality anti-TB drugs, the development of a comprehensive M/XDR-TB management and care framework, and the implementation of airborne infection control policies among others.
In addition, they pledged to raise the estimated $15 billion needed to finance the TB and M/XDR-TB response through to 2015, and called for increased investment in the research and development of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.
A report released by WHO last week noted that the total number of new TB cases had stabilized at 9.27 million in 2007 from 9.24 million in 2006. Rates reached their peak at 142 cases per 100,000 people in 2004, but decreased to 137 per 100,000 people in 2007.
The new WHO study also revealed 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.
TB is an infectious bacterial disease most commonly affecting the lungs, which is transmitted through droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the active respiratory illness. The symptoms of active TB are coughing, sometimes with sputum or blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats, which are treatable with a six-month course of antibiotics.