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WHO: African Countries Need to Invest in TB Control


The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is concerned that African leaders are failing to seriously invest in funding treatment for tuberculosis. The U.N. agency says the problem of TB is particularly severe in Africa because it is linked to HIV/AIDS.

The World Health Organization says poor health systems and the link with HIV/AIDS have led to an increase of tuberculosis cases in Africa.

WHO estimates 1.7 million people died from TB in 2004, and nearly nine million new cases occurred. It reports the largest number of new TB cases is in South-East Asia, but the highest rate of infection, nearly twice that of Asia, is in sub-Saharan Africa.

WHO Director General Lee Jong Wook says evidence shows countries that have made the necessary investments have been able to control TB.

"Even in low-income countries, the programs are operating effectively, and producing results," said Lee Jong Wook. "However, the funding and implementation remain fragile in some areas, notably in African countries. The commitment that has brought the success elsewhere needs to be replicated in every country that still has a high level of TB, using the newly launched strategies."

WHO says it costs very little to cure TB. A six-month course of treatment under the so-called DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course) program costs only $15. Since the program was launched in 1996, some 22 million tuberculosis patients have been cured.

Despite the cost-effectiveness, WHO says, African leaders are still failing to seriously invest in TB control. One notable exception is Kenya. WHO says the Kenyan government has launched a national TB emergency plan that sets out actions and provides the resources required to cut the number of TB deaths and cases.

The executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, Marcos Espinal, says TB kills 5,000 people a day, and leaves hundreds of thousands unable to work or attend school.

"Tuberculosis, ladies and gentlemen, is not a medical problem," he said. "Tuberculosis is a social problem. It is a security problem. It is a development problem. It is a disgrace that TB kills two million people today. There is no country, not one country that escapes the TB pandemic. TB can be conquered. TB has a cure."

The World Health Organization says more than 27 million people are infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. But, few are dying of AIDS. It says they are dying of tuberculosis well before HIV develops into AIDS.

WHO's Stop TB Strategy aims to cut TB deaths by half within the next 10 years by treating 50 million people who have the contagious disease. But, the WHO says, Africa must be prepared to invest in the $56 billion program for it to succeed.

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