Stalled Progress on TB Worldwide Calls for Urgent Action

WHO reports progress too slow to counteract drug-resistance and TB-HIV

Washington, DC (March 18, 2008) — The WHO’s annual report, Global Tuberculosis Control 2008, reports that although progress is being made in detecting and treating tuberculosis, the level of progress has slowed or stalled in high-burden countries, and the absolute number of deaths has risen.

1.5 million people died of tuberculosis in 2006, with another 200,000 dying from HIV-associated TB, for a total of 1.7 million TB-related deaths. 2006 also saw 9.2 million new cases, including 500,000 new drug-resistant cases and 200,000 cases in patients co-infected with HIV.

While the average rate at which new cases of TB were detected increased by 3 percent from 2005 to 2006, this represents a sharp drop-off in the rate of progress over previous years. From 2001 to 2005, the rate of detection increased at a level of 6 percent per year. The drop-off means that there are potentially many more people sick with TB who are not being found and treated.

“The renewed threat of ever more drug-resistant strains of TB and the continued devastation caused by TB in AIDS-ravaged countries makes it all the more urgent that progress not be allowed to stall,” said Joanne Carter, Associate Executive Director of RESULTS Educational Fund. “While there’s been notable progress in recent years, we are starting to see the needle is moving in the wrong direction. The U.S. and the global community should take this very seriously and act with urgency.”

Last month, the WHO reported that drug-resistant TB is spreading faster than ever, and extensively drug-resistant TB — the most dangerous form — has been detected in 45 countries. The actual number of countries affected is likely much higher, as many countries in hotspots like sub-Saharan Africa lack the resources to diagnose and report drug-resistant TB.

Concurrent with this trend is the fact that TB is the leading cause of death of people with HIV/AIDS in these same regions. Health systems lack the capacity to diagnose and treat both diseases, and AIDS patients often die from TB before it’s ever detected, but not before it can potentially be spread to others.

Recent events in both houses of Congress have shown promising steps in the U.S. meeting its own commitment for halting the spread of TB both domestically and around the world. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee both passed versions of the Global HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act which, in addition to expanding efforts to fight the AIDS pandemic, also includes $4 billion in resources to control global TB over the next five years.

“We believe this bill and its TB provisions are more important than ever now and must pass intact,” said Carter. “If we fail to respond, we risk undoing not only all of the progress we’ve made on HIV/AIDS, but also decades worth of progress on tuberculosis. The full Congress must pass this bill to avoid a global health disaster.”

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