Ineffective action in controlling TB causing 1.6 million deaths each
12 December 2007
TB is treatable, but inadequate action by governments
worldwide is leading to escalating cases of drug-resistance, of which only
2% are treated. TB is an avoidable human tragedy of 9 million infected
people and 1.6 million deaths each year.
Public health advocates meeting
as the annual World Conference on Lung Health in November concluded that
current approaches to diagnosing and treating tuberculosis are ineffective
and do not reach the majority of people with drug-resistant TB, particularly
in regions with high HIV rates.
The advocates, including the Open Society
Institute (OSI), Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), AIDS & Rights Alliance for
Southern Africa (ARASA), Partners In Health (PIH) and Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF), met with global leaders to discuss TB control to explore
community-based solutions to stem the spread of multidrug-resistant
tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and to encourage patients to take their full course of
“TB is a treatable disease but for far too many people it has
become a death sentence,” said George Soros, chairman of OSI. “Global
leaders should use this week’s World Conference on Lung Health to move away
from empty rhetoric and commit to real programs that can save countless
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are nearly
9 million cases of TB worldwide every year, resulting in 1.6 million deaths.
Failure to properly address TB has led to drug-resistant strains of the
disease, which are more complicated and costly to diagnose and treat. About
420,000 new cases of drug-resistant TB are diagnosed each year, but only 2%
of these cases receive treatment under the current system.
TB is also the
leading killer of people living with HIV/AIDS. The WHO estimates that up to
80% of TB patients in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV.
said that poor infection control measures in healthcare facilities, such as
inadequate ventilation, are contributing to the spread of MDR-TB. Many
countries lack the human resources or finances to adequately address
drug-resistant TB. In southern Africa, health providers have expressed
frustration over shortages of drugs that have been shown to effectively
treat drug-resistant TB.
“In a recent visit to Swaziland, I saw with my
own eyes the challenge of diagnosing MDR-TB in rural areas and the enormous
difficulties of treating the poorest of the poor who are unable to access
proper care,” said WHO Stop TB Director Dr Mario Raviglione.
decisive action by governments, and through partnerships with faith-based
organizations and NGOs, and the full engagement of civil society and
activists, will we alleviate some of the suffering in these countries.”
There are a number of new initiatives underway to improve the prevention,
diagnosis, and treatment of MDR-TB in regions with high HIV rates. For
example, PIH established treatment programs in Lesotho and Rwanda that train
local villagers to become community health workers. TAC and ARASA are
coordinating treatment literacy campaigns in Lesotho. Governments and
international donors should devote funds to exploring these and other
innovative approaches to controlling MDR-TB, say the groups.
Information on the satellite meeting in Cape Town, Time
for Change: New Approaches for Managing Drug-Resistant TB in Regions with
High HIV Rates, is online at
Further information on the TB pandemic
Stop TB partnership
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