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March 24, 2010
WASHINGTON, March 24 – In a video message, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah commemorated World Tuberculosis Day on March 24. Dr Shah spoke about the global TB burden and highlighted important steps the United States is taking to stop TB around the world through a new strategy.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that claims nearly two million lives every year. It is second only to HIV/AIDS among infectious disease killers worldwide. More than 2 billion people, one-third of the world’s population, are infected with the microbe that causes the disease, putting them at risk of developing TB in their lifetime. And TB is a disease of the poor, it’s much more commonly found in developing countries. In fact, if you look here, 22 countries account for about 80% of the total global disease burden in tuberculosis. And you see many of the countries in Africa where HIV/AIDS prevalence is very high also have a significant problem with TB.
Making matters worse, new forms of the disease are resistant to existing drugs.
These multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis really threaten to undermine years of progress. And this table shows where multi-drug resistant TB is most likely to be found.
But there’s good news too. TB is a curable. Saving lives is simply a matter of early detection and appropriate treatment.
I in fact began learning about TB when I worked on a tuberculosis project in south India when I was in college. Since that time India has made great strides in controlling TB with a nation-wide program in part supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
One useful tool has been the introduction of kits containing all of the drugs a patient needs to complete treatment. This is a picture of just the drugs that the patient is taking, and this is a simple kit that has 6 months worth of drugs required for treatment. And this simple innovation has really helped simply the treatment and has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Traditional microscopy, which is over 100 years old, is how tuberculosis is usually detected, and we simply have to have a better way of doing that. The problem with this method is that it misses almost 50% of TB cases, and it is not sensitive enough in people living with HIV. Which is why we’re investing significantly in tuberculosis research and a lot of this work is very exciting. Tests to more rapidly diagnose drug resistant tuberculosis have already been endorsed by the World Health Organization.
Hopefully, a point-of-care rapid test will soon be available so we don’t have to use traditional microscopy and we have an effective and efficient way to identify tuberculosis.
Once TB is diagnosed, treatment must also be provided. We are working with the private sector to develop new drugs that could shorten the TB treatment from the current 6 month recommendation to four months or even less. That would make it easier and cheaper to help solve TB in patients who have the illness.
As part of the President’s Global Health Initiative, we are accelerating our programs to control TB. Working with our many partners, we believe it will be possible to halve the number of TB cases and deaths by 2015. In doing so, 14 million lives could be saved. In support of these global targets, I am pleased to release the U.S. Government’s Global TB Strategy (pdf, 485kb). This is our blueprint for expanded treatment and control over the next five years. We will work in close partnerships with host nations to implement this strategy.
We also need action at the community level. This photograph shows women in Tanzania. This woman is actually a TB patient who’s been cured during an effective directly observed therapy course of treatment. She’s now working other patients to help them go through the treatment and to help protect them from tuberculosis.
For those you on the front lines fighting this disease, I applaud your commitment. And I pledge to communities around the world that USAID will continue to stand by you in the important fight against TB.