The World Health Organization says it is stepping up efforts to tackle tuberculosis, along with HIV/AIDS, because the two diseases are closely linked. Seventy percent of the world's 14 million people infected with both diseases live in Africa.
The World Health Organization describes tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS as a deadly duo. The Director of WHO's Stop TB department, Mario Raviglione, said HIV fuels the TB epidemic. He said tuberculosis constitutes the most important public health infection seen among patients living with HIV/AIDS. "In Africa alone, about two million tuberculosis cases arise every year of which one-third are HIV-positive or among HIV-positive people. In some cities, we have seen phenomena of an incredible proportion of 70 or 80 percent of TB patients being HIV-positive. We estimate approximately 30 or 40 percent of the AIDS cases eventually may develop TB and die of tuberculosis. So, no doubt, we have a major co-epidemic in front of ourselves," he said.
The World Health Organization says tackling tuberculosis and HIV together can have a significant impact on improving the quality of life of people infected with HIV. At the same time, it can control tuberculosis and prevent new infections.
Dr. Raviglione said WHO's new policy calls for the rapid expansion of voluntary HIV testing and counseling in TB programs. He said WHO recommends that patients be tested and screened for HIV and tuberculosis at the same time. "Newly identified HIV-positive people could then be counseled on how to prevent tuberculosis or they could be screened in order to make sure they do not have tuberculosis at the time when they test for HIV, which we have found is a significant phenomena. They can also be given prophylaxis to prevent tuberculosis," he said.
At the end of last year, the World Health Organization started a multi-billion dollar program to provide anti-retroviral drugs to three million people living with AIDS by the end of 2005.
Dr. Raviglione says treating HIV patients for tuberculosis will add little to the cost of this program. He notes a six-month course of treatment costs $10-15, but a simple drug to prevent the onset of tuberculosis only costs $1 or $2 for a nine-month period.