A new initiative designed to combat tuberculosis, which claims the lives of nearly two million people across the world every year, could accelerate progress towards eliminating the disease if governments and donors commit enough funds to the plan, the United Nations health agency said today.
The “Global Plan to Stop TB 2011-2015: Transforming the Fight Towards Elimination of Tuberculosis” identifies all the research gaps that need to be filled to make rapid TB tests available, bring faster treatment regimens and a fully effective vaccine to market, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
Although TB is curable, the treatment requires taking a combination of drugs for at least six months. Laboratories in most countries are still using a century-old diagnostic method that involves searching for TB bacteria derived from a person's sputum under a microscope. There is still no vaccine able to prevent pulmonary TB, the most common form of the disease.
Some 9 million people become ill with TB every year, claiming nearly 2 million lives annually.
The new scheme unveiled today by the WHO-hosted Stop TB Partnership shows public health programmes how to promote universal access to TB care, including how to modernize diagnostic laboratories and adopt revolutionary tests that have recently become available.
It seeks to provide diagnosis and treatment approaches recommended by WHO for 32 million people over the next five years.
“There is an urgent need to scale up action against TB – 10 million people, including 4 million women and children, will lose their lives unnecessarily between now and 2015 if we fail,” said Margaret Chan, the agency’s Director-General.
“TB control works, with global incidence of the disease declining since 2004, although much too slowly,” she added.
The Global Plan provides a clear roadmap for addressing drug-resistant TB, calling for 7 million people to be tested for multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and one million confirmed cases treated according to international standards over the next five years.
Every year, half a million people die from HIV/AIDS-related TB. If the plan’s targets are met, by the end of 2015, all TB patients will be tested for HIV and, if the test is positive, they will receive anti-retroviral drugs and other appropriate HIV/AIDS care. All patients being treated for HIV will be screened for TB and receive the preventive therapy or treatment necessary.
The new initiative calls for $37 billion for TB care between 2011 and 2015. A funding gap of about $ 14 billion – nearly $3 billion per year – will still remain and needs to be filled by international donors.
It includes a separate calculation of the funding required to meet targets for research and development – a total of $10 billion, or $2 billion per year. High-income countries and those with growing economies will need to increase their investment in research and development to fill an estimated gap of about $7 billion, or $1.4 billion per year.
In addition to helping public health programmes adopt already existing modern diagnostic tests, the scheme sets a research agenda aimed at creating two new “while-you-wait” rapid tests that trained staff at even the most basic health outposts can use to diagnose TB accurately.