China has slashed it's tuberculosis rate by around 30 percent, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) assessment, the first since the start of an intensive international TB eradication effort.

A study published in the current issue of the Lancet is the first comprehensive look at the effectiveness of a WHO program established over ten years ago to eliminate tuberculosis worldwide. The program, called DOTS (Directly Observed Therapy) involves giving an intensive, short-course of antibiotics to infected individuals.

The analysis looked at China, which in 2000 reported 1.4 million new cases of TB. The following year, the Chinese initiated DOTS.

WHO officials, using data provided by the Chinese, assessed information involving 300,000 people at 257 clinics across mainland China. Investigators found that the number of new tuberculosis cases had dropped by 30 percent since DOTS was initiated.

Christopher Dye is head of tuberculosis monitoring and evaluation at the World Health Organization. Dr. Dye, who headed the study, says he would have liked to see a greater reduction in China's TB rate, but he's not disappointed.

"If China continues with the effort in TB control that it's already put in, then we would expect a further, bigger reduction over the coming years," he said.

The World Health Organization has set a goal of cutting the number of people infected with tuberculosis in half by 2015.

Dr. Dye thinks similar progress toward TB eradication is being made by other countries.

"We would expect to see in other major TB countries around the world a similar impact if those countries could put in place large TB control programs in the way China has done," he added.

Only India has more cases of tuberculosis than China. Dr. Dye says similar rate reductions in India would significantly reduce the TB burden worldwide.