The World Health Organization says over the last 15 years, some 36 million people have been cured of tuberculosis and about eight million TB cases have been avoided. The information is contained in the WHO’s 2009 Global Tuberculosis Control Report Update.
The so-called DOTS strategy is given credit for the good news. DOTS is an acronym for Direct Observed Treatment Short Course.
The report adds, however, that millions of people still do not have access to high quality TB care. The disease is second only to HIV/AIDS in how many people it kills each year. About 1.8 million died of tuberculosis in 2008.
Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO’s Stop TB Department, is in Washington, D.C. for the release of the report.
“What we are demonstrating with this new report is that on the one hand we have fairly good benefits from the investments in TB control over the last 10 to 15 years and at the same time…we have problems that persist and are possibly getting worse,” he says.
He says little progress has been made in stopping multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
“I believe that there is little commitment in many countries to expand rapidly and urgently what needs to be done for MDR-TB. Here we are dealing with a really serious urgent problem. We are talking about a half a million cases…emerging every year,” he says.
The WHO official says only a small percentage, perhaps six or seven percent, of MDR-TB cases are even detected.
“Only half of them are properly treated,’ he says, “that to me is a tremendous delay and is a lack of [a] sense of urgency.”
Unless more is done, he says there will be severe consequences.
“Multi-drug resistant TB is the most serious form of tuberculosis because it does not respond to the conventional treatment that we give to patients with TB. The consequence is that we are just allowing this disease to spread unchecked in many parts of the world,” he says.
The former Soviet countries are among the hardest hit by MDR-TB, as well as parts of China. Many cases are also reported in parts of Africa, where victims are often already infected with HIV/AIDS.
“The consequences are simply continued transmission and the possibility of having other suffering and deaths from this form of disease,” he says.
Releasing the report in Washington
“We have a lot of hope in the U.S. government to help in the fight against TB globally. The U.S. is definitely the leader in the fight against tuberculosis…among all countries, particularly among the donor countries,” he says.
He adds, “We have a lot of hope that the U.S. government continues supporting this fight.”