Without additional funding in the battle against tuberculosis for research, improved prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, some 8 million people will die from what is largely a curable disease between now and 2015, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today.
“There is cause for optimism,” he said in a message marking World Tuberculosis Day. “The recent adoption of a fast and powerful new diagnostic tool promises to accelerate international gains against the disease.
“At the same time, our hope must be tempered by the sobering fact that multi-drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis (MDR-TB) remain an ever-present threat that, if allowed to spread unchecked, could set back the steady progress made during the past two decades.”
He cited major achievements achieved through the UN World Health Organization (WHO) Stop TB Strategy, including impressive improvements in the way TB care is delivered, with well over 40 million people receiving treatment in accordance with the strategy over the past 15 years.
“Prevalence and death rates continue to fall, demonstrating the power of international commitment to save lives,” he said. “This progress could be lost if we are not vigilant. Efforts to carry out the strategy are severely under-funded, as is research to develop additional, badly needed tools. Without further improvements in tuberculosis prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, some 8 million people will die of tuberculosis between now and 2015.”
The WHO Stop TB Strategy seeks to achieve universal access to high-quality care for all people with TB, protect vulnerable populations from TB, TB/HIV and multi-drug-resistant TB, and support development of new tools and enable their timely and effective use. It stresses the need for political commitment with adequate and sustained financing, early detection, standardized treatment with supervision, and effective drug supply and management.
Earlier this week WHO warned that leaving MDR-TB, which does not respond to standard first-line drugs, untreated increases the risk of spread of drug-resistant strains. In 2009, it reported that 9.4 million people became ill with TB and 1.7 million died, including 380,000 people with HIV-associated TB. There were some 440,000 cases of MDR-TB and 150,000 deaths in 2008, the latest year for which estimates are available.
The agency estimates that there will be more than 2 million new cases of MDR-TB between 2011 and 2015.
Noting that TB care still fails to reach everyone in need, Mr. Ban said about a third of those infected do not benefit from accurate diagnosis and appropriate care. “Most of these nearly 3 million people are in vulnerable and marginalized groups, including slum dwellers, migrant workers and drug users,” he added.
“We need to reach them by teaming up with civil society, health workers and businesses. In the 21st century, no one should die from this curable disease. Access to quality health care is a basic human right.”