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WHO Annual Global TB Report Released

The WHO on Thursday released its annual report on global tuberculosis control, which showed that in 2009 there were 9.4 million new tuberculosis cases and 1.7 million people died of the disease, Reuters reports (Nebehay, 11/11).

A WHO press release described the data as the “most comprehensive report ever on the progress being made in combating the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic.” According to the release, the report “contains the very latest data, and for the first time also includes online profiles from 212 countries and territories” (11/11). The report “noted that the incidence of tuberculosis was stable or falling in 2009 in all of the 22 countries that have the highest burden of the disease, except South Africa,” CTV News writes. Overall, the global death rate has gone down by 35 percent since 1990 (11/11). “Since 1995, 41 million people have been cured and 6 million lives have been saved. These are major successes that have been achieved largely without any ‘magic bullet,'” Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop TB Department, said in the press release (11/11).

But “despite significant and lasting improvements in the quality of TB care since 1995, especially in poor countries,” the WHO warned that “overall progress is still far too fragile,” Agence France-Presse reports. “There are still 1.7 million deaths a year from a disease that is perfectly curable in 2010,” Raviglione said. “At this pace it will take millennia to get rid of TB,” he said (11/11).

“India carries the highest burden of TB, with 2 million new cases diagnosed in 2009. It’s estimated that as many as half of India’s population is carrying the contagious airborne bacteria that cause TB,” CTV News writes. “China also carries a huge TB burden, with 1.3 million cases diagnosed a year, followed by South Africa with some 490,000” (11/11). But Raviglione also said, “India is the country that has seen the most spectacular increase in doing the right things in TB control,” AFP notes. He highlighted India’s “shift from sparse detection and treatment 10 years ago to nationwide coverage today,” the news service writes. According to AFP, the data show “that when the best practices were put in place with proper funding and government commitment, ‘then the tide in the epidemic can turn,’ Raviglione added” (11/11).  

“The report said countries need to do a better job of ensuring patients get access to treatment, antibiotics are used properly so that resistance does not develop and strict infection control measures are in place to limit spread,” Reuters writes (11/11). In the release, Raviglione said, “No government is doing too much in TB. 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” (11/11).

The report highlighted the challenges posed by drug-resistant TB, Reuters reports. Multi-drug resistant TB “infected an estimated 440,000 people in 2008 and is thought to be most widespread in China, India and Russia, but only a fraction of cases are reported to WHO,” the news service writes. “This is probably the biggest challenge of all and the one that countries at the moment are not facing the way they should,” Raviglione said. He also said new treatments are expected to become available. “In terms of treatment, possibly in the next 2-3 years, we will have for the first time I would say since the 1970s, two or three compounds that are effective against multi-drug resistant TB. So this will give us an extra weapon,” Raviglione said (11/11).

The report also found that 1.6 million TB patients knew their HIV status in 2009 compared to 1.4 million in 2008, according to a WHO fact sheet (.pdf), which notes the highest HIV testing rates of TB patients occurred in Europe (86%) followed by Africa (53%) and then the Americas (41%). “In 55 countries, including 16 in Africa, at least 75% of TB patients knew their HIV status” (11/11).

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