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Plan Aims to Cut TB Deaths by Half in Five Years

Children participate in the launch of a global plan to stop TB, in Alexandra Township north of Johannesburg, 13 Oct 2010

Children participate in the launch of a global plan to stop TB, in Alexandra Township north of Johannesburg, 13 Oct 2010

The Partnership to Stop Tuberculosis has launched a plan to cut by half in five years the estimated 2 million annual deaths from tuberculosis.

The consortium of public, private and civil groups announced the plan Wednesday, saying they hope to prevent 5 million deaths from TB over the next five years through better testing, improved diagnosis and more effective drugs.

The Health Commissioner for Johannesburg's Gauteng Province, Qedani Mahlangu, noted that South Africa is one of several emerging nations in Africa and Asia with a high incidence of TB. She said this is partly because TB often attacks people whose immune systems have been weakened by the HIV/AIDS virus.

"South Africa has a huge TB problem," said Mahlangu. "And alongside the HIV and AIDS epidemic, it is something we are fully allied to [fight] and it is something that as government we are doing all we can to attack, to deal with this problem."

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious disease that is transmitted usually by the cough of an infected person. Experts say it is preventable and curable, but it often goes undetected and treatment for it is lengthy.

The plan hopes to develop new tests that can detect the disease immediately. These would replace current tests that must be sent to special laboratories and, in less developed countries, can take weeks to complete.

The plan also hopes to develop new courses of treatment to replace current regimes that are less effective against new drug-resistant strains of TB.

South Africa Coordinator for the Community Initiative for TB Carol Nawina Nyirenda said victims of TB support the plan because it provides a blueprint for eliminating the disease. "For me and many others out there who live with the reality of TB and TB/HIV, for us this global plan means hope, a hope that countries will take TB seriously, a hope for a future free of TB, a hope for our children and children's' children to have a future free of TB."

Nyirenda added that an important part of the plan is to engage victims of the disease in the effort because that will help reach the targets sooner.

The Partnership says $47 billion will be needed during the next five years to implement the plan.

The head of the Global Business Coalition on HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria, John Tedstrom, said TB is a concern to business because it affects productivity and the families of employees. "Tuberculosis matters to business. Conquering TB is important to business. And business is going to be a partner in this venture until we are all done."

The Partnership said it faces a funding gap of $14 billion for its plan. It called for the governments of wealthy nations and emerging economies to help meet the shortfall.