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WHO: TB Cases, Deaths Linked to HIV Rises Alarmingly in Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) says cases of tuberculosis and deaths linked to HIV/AIDS have risen to alarming levels in Africa. To mark World TB Day, WHO is launching a new Global Tuberculosis Control report on the situation of TB around the world.

The World Health Organization says the battle against tuberculosis is being successfully fought in most areas of the world. The glaring exception, it says, is Africa.

The author of the Global Tuberculosis Control report, Chris Dye, says TB rates in Africa have tripled since 1990 in countries with high HIV prevalence.

"Continent-wide in Africa, TB incidence, the number of new cases each year is still going up at three to four percent a year,” he said. “That is strongly linked to the HIV epidemic. And, this African phenomenon is the main reason why TB in the world is continuing to increase. We need to see a closer association between TB and HIV control programs."

WHO estimates about nine million people develop tuberculosis worldwide every year. In 2003, two million people died of the disease. WHO says good progress in containing TB is being made in the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, South East Asia and Western Pacific. It says these four regions are on track to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing TB incidence by 2015.

Besides Africa, Dr. Dye says tuberculosis continues to be a major problem in Eastern Europe where there are high levels of multi-drug resistant TB. But, he says these cases seem to have peaked in Russia.

"I suspect that it is a combination of two things happening together,” said Dr. Dye. “Both, the health of the population is recovering because the economy for example and social conditions are improving in Russia. And, the old TB control programs are back in place. And, I suspect that there also has been a natural peak in the epidemic. What Russia now needs to do is to make sure that the fundamentals of TB control are in place."

Dr. Dye says the TB epidemic is not out of control. He calls that an exaggeration and distortion of the truth. He says tuberculosis can be beaten by using a simple, cheap method of treatment called DOTS, which stands for Directly Observed Treatment, Short course.

Under this strategy, he says TB patients are provided with a course of drugs for six months which costs as little as $10. He says patients are closely monitored to make sure they take their medication, so as to prevent multi-drug resistance.