Drug-resistant TB on rise, and campaigns seek funds

Strains of tuberculosis that are resistant to multiple drugs present a major threat and could spread widely, the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria said Monday. The organizations are campaigning for funds to tackle the world’s second deadliest infectious disease.

Tackling the TB epidemic is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals that U.N. member states agreed to achieve by 2015.

Annually, the number of new TB cases has declined since 2006 and the number of TB-related deaths is on track to reach a 50 percent reduction by 2015.

But in 2011, according to the World Health Organization, there were still 8.7 million new cases and 1.4 million people died from TB.

Additionally, multidrug-resistant TB is posing an increasing threat.

Mario Raviglione, director of the World Health Organization’s Stop TB Department, said there has been a 2 percent yearly decline in people falling ill from TB. It’s good that the numbers are going down, he said, but the progress is too slow.

“We are not seeing a dent in making the numbers of cases of TB reduced year by year in an accelerated way,” said Raviglione.

Two regions, Europe and Africa, are not on track to halve the TB death rate by 2015, which is the goal laid out by the U.N.

Raviglione said that in Western Europe and North America there are, on average, about five or six TB cases per 100,000 people. The numbers in Africa, which has the greatest per capita TB death rate, are much higher.

“In Africa you find peaks, especially in southern Africa, like South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, etcetera, of 1,000 cases per 100,000, so, many times higher than what you find in rich countries,” he said.

The two Geneva-based organizations held a press conference Monday highlighting the urgent need for funds to combat the TB crisis.

They say an extra $1.6 billion in international funding is needed annually for the treatment and prevention of the disease. By filling the gap, it says treatment could be provided to 17 million TB and multidrug-resistant TB patients, and save 6 million lives between 2014-2016.

Raviglione said about 60 percent of the $1.6 billion would be for WHO’s Africa region.

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