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Millions of TB Patients to Receive Life Saving Drugs


The World Health Organization says more than three-quarters of a million people in 19 countries, most in Africa, will receive life-saving anti-tuberculosis drugs over the next year and a half. It says UNITAID, an international funding agency, will donate nearly $27 million to the initiative. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The project is seen as an important stopgap measure. At the end of next year, the 19 countries will receive money to pay for their tuberculosis treatment programs from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

In the meantime, these countries are faced with a life-threatening shortage of anti-tuberculosis drugs because they do not have the money to pay for them.

Executive Director of WHO's Stop TB Partnership, Marcos Espinal, says if these countries do not receive support, the majority of people in TB programs, will not be able to complete their treatment.

"They do not have the possibilities to afford buying treatments that these people need. So, basically, it is a very conservative estimate of people that could end up being dead, that could end up developing drug-resistance and could spend two to three years wandering around spreading disease to their children and to their households," said Espinal.

The World Health Organization says there are nearly nine million new cases of tuberculosis every year, including 1.6 million deaths. It says about one-third of the world population infected with the bacteria that causes tuberculosis is in Africa.

Fourteen of the 19 countries that will benefit from the joint W.H.O./UNITAID project are in Africa. The other countries include Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Iraq and Tajikistan.

Dr. Espinal notes the TB and HIV/AIDS epidemics are closely linked in Africa. He says treating HIV/AIDS patients for tuberculosis will prolong their lives.

"We do not provide anti-retrovirals. But, we work very close with the organisms that provide anti-retrovirals," the doctor explained. "There are already guidelines and specific policies suggested for countries to implement collaborative activities between the HIV programs and the TB programs. Both programs are to work together on country level in order to avoid or to reduce the burden of HIV disease among people affected with TB. And, also to reduce the burden of TB among people affected with HIV."

The World Health Organization estimates a six-month course of treatment costs $20 per person. The program will buy low-cost generic drugs manufactured in India.

The project also will establish a stockpile of anti-tuberculosis drugs that will be made available to countries facing shortages because of humanitarian emergencies.