An estimated 41 million people have been cured of tuberculosis (TB) over the past 15 years through a treatment strategy recommended by the United Nations health agency, according to a new report, but success remains fragile and governments must strengthen their determination to combat the disease.
“With 1.7 million people dying from tuberculosis last year – including 380,000 women, many of whom were young mothers – these successes are far too fragile,” said Mario Raviglione, Director of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Stop TB Department, launching the agency’s global report on the disease.
“Commitments are being short-changed. If governments are genuinely committed to stopping TB, they must seize all the opportunities that are available right now and all the opportunities that may come in the near future,” Mr. Raviglione said.
The WHO recommended “Directly Observed Treatment Short-course (DOTS)” TB control regime has been recognized as a highly efficient and cost-effective strategy against the disease.
The strategy has five elements ¬– political commitment, microscopy services, drug availability, surveillance and monitoring systems, and the use of highly effective medicines with direct supervision of treatment. Once patients with infectious TB have been identified, health and community workers and trained volunteers observe and record patients taking the full course of the correct dosage of anti-TB medicines. The treatment lasts six to eight months.
“The findings of the Global Tuberculosis Control 2010 publication confirm that when WHO’s best practices are put in place, and with the right amount of funding and commitments from governments, we can turn the tide on the TB epidemic,” said Mr. Raviglione.
“Since 1995, we have seen considerable improvements in the quality of TB care, and these improvements are having a positive impact in some of the world's poorest countries,” he added.
According to the WHO report, the most comprehensive on ever produced on TB, there has been a 35 per cent drop in the rate of deaths caused by the disease since 1990.
Tuberculosis incidence rates are falling globally and in five of WHO’s six regions, with the exception of South-East Asia where the incidence rate is stable, according to the report.