International health officials are expanding a successful tuberculosis treatment program to include services for those infected with the AIDS virus. Anti-AIDS drugs will be offered to patients at TB treatment centers around the world.
AIDS and tuberculosis have become inextricably linked. Those with weakened immune systems caused by HIV are more likely to catch tuberculosis, a highly infectious respiratory illness that can shorten the lives of AIDS patients.
Under the plan, people with both diseases who go to TB centers to receive antibiotics to cure their tuberculosis will soon be able to get anti-retroviral drugs to manage their HIV infection. The medications will be made available at 49 clinics supported by the World Health Organization.
The United Nations estimates 40 million people are living with AIDS worldwide. Mario Raviglione of the WHO's Stop TB program says the TB centers will help getting anti-retroviral drugs to people who need them.
"Offering HIV testing to TB patients would considerably expand our ability to provide access to HIV care and prevention services, but particularly to anti-retrovirals that test positive, he said.
Mr. Raviglione says the joint TB/HIV effort will have it's greatest impact in Africa, where a half-million people are infected with both diseases. He says HIV now accounts for nearly 40 percent of TB cases in Africa, and TB is responsible for about one-third of deaths among those who are infected with the AIDS virus.
Officials say the TB clinics will offer the anti-AIDS drugs cost-effectively to people infected with HIV.
"We ensure through a competitive bidding process that we always identify the best organization that provide the most efficient quality at the lowest cost services for us," said Virginia Arnold, manager of the Global Drug Facility, which oversees the clinics.
The WHO has set a goal of treating 3 million HIV infected individuals by World AIDS day 2005. International health officials hope the TB centers will go a long way toward achieving that aim.