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WHO says TB effort 'in real danger'

23rd October 2012

While the global death rate from tuberculosis (TB) is falling fast, the disease is still a major burden, especially in the world's poorest countries, according to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.


While recent advances in drugs and testing techniques mean that TB-related deaths look set to halve by 2015, there is still a critical funding shortfall which could slow progress.

Research and development funding totalling US$2 billion a year has still to be found to keep up current treatment and control measures, according to the WHO's 'Global Tuberculosis Report 2012'.

TB is still putting a major strain on healthcare systems in developing countries in Asia and Africa.

Meanwhile, the growth of drug resistance has met with a slow response, which may also hamper any progress in the fight against TB in future.

The report estimates that TB treatments and control measures recommended by the WHO since 1995 have saved the lives of more than 20 million people worldwide.

It said that infection rates and TB-linked mortality had fallen in nearly all of the worst-affected countries, where more than 80% of the world's TB cases are found.

The past few years have seen a significant expansion in access to TB care, improved collaboration between TB and HIV prevention activities, and innovative diagnostic tools, the report said.

All of this had helped to bring down the TB mortality rate by 41%, but considerable problems remained, it added.

It estimated that an additional 8.7 million had become newly infected with TB during the course of 2011 alone, 1.4 million of whom had died.

China and India now account for 40% of worldwide cases, with the majority of the rest of the disease burden also falling on developing countries.

Increasing drug resistance to front-line TB treatments is a growing problem in the fight against the disease.

There are some promising drugs and vaccines in the pipeline which could eventually help to tackle the drug-resistant strains of the bacteria that causes TB, but progress so far has been slow.

According to Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop TB Department, real progress has been made in fighting the disease, with better measurements of TB in children and women one of the main achievements since the last report.

But Raviglione said the world stood "at a crossroads" in TB control, and a large funding gap threatened to undermine progress made so far.

According to Ann Ginsberg, vice-president of scientific affairs at Aeras, an organisation committed to developing new vaccines and drugs to combat TB, the report highlights WHO's preference for using current methods of treatment and testing, and did not emphasise the development of new treatments.

While the report provided the only global TB data on mortality and resistance, it only paid lip service to research and development, Ginsberg said.

She said it was fairly clear that the WHO had already achieved as much as it could in the fight against TB with currently available tools.

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Tuesday 23rd October 2012 @ 20:21

It is really gratifying to note that the TB mortality rate has fallen to 41% and the WHO recommended treatments and control measures have saved more than 20 million people around the world.

One of the main reasons for the survival of TB is lack of awareness and education about the killer disease; most of the people afflicted do not realise that they have TB till the disease has fairly advanced.

Let us hope that with the development of new and better vaccines, drugs and continued research, the world will be free of this scourage.

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