TB reported to be down, but campaign threatened

The World Health Organization says the number of people worldwide getting tuberculosis declined last year for the first time, but experts warn this progress could be undone by cuts in funding, especially amid global economic turmoil.

Organization statistics published Tuesday show the number of people who became sick with the disease dropped to 8.8 million in 2010. The number of people who died last year from TB fell to 1.4 million.

The report says every region of the world except Africa appears to be on track for a 50 percent decline in tuberculosis deaths by 2015. Brazil and China have made especially dramatic progress over the past two decades. In China, the report says, TB deaths fell by 80 percent.

Margaret Chan, director general of the health agency, said strong leadership in many countries, coupled with domestic financing and foreign donor support, has begun to make a difference in the fight against tuberculosis.

Mario Raviglione, director of the organization’s Stop TB Department, says the report shouldn’t ease concerns about the disease.

“I am concerned that the momentum that has been created by these achievements may actually be lost,” he said. “So that’s why we are calling for an increase in the intensity of tuberculosis control and research.”

World Health Organization says about a third of the world’s population is infected with TB bacteria, but only a relatively small percentage develops the disease. TB bacteria destroy lung tissue and can spread through the air when people cough. The agency says that overall the death rate from TB has dropped 40 percent since 1990.

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