TB Survivors Increase, Deaths Decline with Global Efforts

 Thorough, effective treatment for tuberculosis has saved the lives of 22 million people in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, while the number of people succumbing to this age-old disease has declined.
Thorough, effective treatment for tuberculosis has saved the lives of 22 million people in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, while the number of people succumbing to this age-old disease has declined.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
October 25, 2013

Thorough, effective treatment for tuberculosis has saved the lives of 22 million people in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, while the number of people succumbing to this age-old disease has declined.

“Globally by 2012, the TB mortality rate had been reduced by 45 percent since 1990,” according to the Global Tuberculosis Report 2013. “The target to reduce deaths by 50 percent by 2015 is within reach.”

That target is among the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the international community in 2000. Those goals triggered heightened international development efforts to address global health issues, activities in which the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has played a major role.

The successes cited in the WHO report are tempered by some cautions. About 3 million people are being overlooked for treatment by health systems; and the response to the increasing appearance of multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is inadequate, given the potential that an untreatable bacterial infection is gaining wider and wider circulation.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health Ariel Pablos-Méndez applauded the advances in TB treatment, but expressed concern about the unavailability of care to many populations.

“Many of these people are among the most vulnerable and stigmatized, often at the bottom of the social spectrum,” Pablos-Méndez wrote in a blog post. “Universal health coverage and poverty alleviation are critical for bridging this gap and providing better access and quality TB services to those at risk.”

Pablos-Méndez called the increase in MDR-TB “alarming” and progress toward better diagnosis and treatment “far off-track.” Fewer than 25 percent of the people estimated to carry this difficult-to-treat strain of the disease have actually been identified, he wrote. Lack of treatment and diagnosis for these patients is especially alarming given the potential these people have to spread MDR-TB to wider circles of people in their communities.

Pablos-Méndez said USAID, the principal U.S. government agency for international TB care and treatment programs, is rallying a response to both these concerns. “USAID is leading the charge in both of these areas by expanding access and quality of TB services.”

These USAID priorities for further action align with those cited by WHO. Global Tuberculosis Report 2013 further recommends three other actions “that could make a rapid difference between now and 2015”:

• Strive to achieve the treatment needs of those co-infected with TB and HIV, with expanded distributions of antiretroviral therapy.

• Boost funding for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, which provides about 75 percent of financial resources for the disease response in developing countries with high disease burdens.

• Speed the distribution of new disease-fighting technologies to communities that need them most.

“We are now at a crucial moment where we cannot afford to let these gains go into reverse,” said Osamu Kunii, head of the investment division at the Global Fund. “We need the commitment of the international community to address the significant funding gap to fight this disease.”

The United States has invested more than $8.5 billion in the Global Fund since its creation in 2000.

Even with its cautions about the need for intensified action, Pablos-Méndez said the 2013 report, with data from almost 200 nations and territories, shows how much progress can be made against disease if there is strong political will, commitment of resources and targeted action in the most vulnerable communities.

 

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