The World Health Organization (WHO) says evidence is growing that investment in tuberculosis control works. It estimates three of the world's six regions, the Americas, South-East Asia and Western Pacific, should have reached targets for tuberculosis control by the end of 2005. The WHO has launched its annual Global Tuberculosis Control Report before World TB day on Friday.
The World Health Organization says TB control efforts have gained momentum with the appearance of new tools and new strategies for fighting this contagious disease.
But the latest estimates released in the report show one-point-seven-million people died from TB in 2004, and nearly nine million new cases occurred. While the largest number of new TB cases is in Southeast Asia, the highest rate, nearly twice that of Asia, is in sub-Saharan Africa.
WHO Director-General, Lee Jong Wook, says the TB pandemic in Africa is being fueled by an explosion of HIV/AIDS.
"Even though there are more than 27 million people are infected by HIV, the people are dying of TB," he said. "Usually, because of the strong stigma attached to HIV, not many people are dying of AIDS, but everybody is dying of tuberculosis. So, that clearly this reflects again on the need to deal with TB as well as HIV/AIDS."
The main author of the report, Dr. Chris Dye, says the core approach to TB control is the so-called DOTS strategy that focuses on prompt diagnosis and treatment of patients. Since this program was launched in 1995, more than 22 million patients have been successfully treated.
But Dr. Dye notes DOTS alone is not good enough to deal with the complexities of tuberculosis in Africa, where it is closely linked to HIV/AIDS. He says a broader range of approaches are needed to deal with HIV and TB together.
"So, under the new Stop TB strategy which builds on DOTS, what we propose is a set of measures where tuberculosis patients are more frequently tested for HIV, where there is more regular provision of anti-retroviral therapy," he explained. "And also other measures like the more effective identification of tuberculosis among people who are known to be infected with HIV."
A Patients' Charter for Tuberculosis Care will be launched Friday on World TB Day. Case Gordon, who battled multi-drug resistant tuberculosis six years ago, calls it an historic document. He says the charter for the first time spells out the rights and responsibilities of people with TB.
"Traditionally, in the Global Report, we are statistics," he said. "We live. We die. We get recorded. We are looking to change that. We are looking to become participants in the process and in doing so we think we can help to reduce the burden of the disease."
In January, a $56 billion global plan to end TB by 2015 was launched. The World Health Organization says if countries fund the plan, the lives of 14 million people who would otherwise die from tuberculosis could be saved.