The World Health Organization recently released a report on the state of tuberculosis in the world and called on donor nations to provide funds to distribute and monitor the administration of anti-tuberculosis drugs in the developing world.
The WHO’s basic conclusion is that the tuberculosis situation is declining fueled by the twin killers of AIDS and poverty. WHO estimates that one in three of the world’s 42 million HIV positive individuals also has tuberculosis.
Back in the early 1990s WHO declared tuberculosis to be a global emergency, and the situation with the disease today is much worse.
The cost of drugs that combat tuberculosis is only $10 for a complete regimen of drugs that will cure about 95 percent of cases. But in order for this to work, the entire series of drugs must be taken on a timetable. Poor health care systems in the developing world mean that even among individuals who receive drugs, few actually complete the entire regimen. This not only renders the drugs useless, but also dramatically increases the risks of more drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.
According to WHO estimates, fewer than 1 in 3 African patients receives the entire series of drugs, and in Russia that percentage is even lower.
Aside from the devastating toll the disease takes among those afflicted with it, there is a bigger danger that a drug resistant form of the disease could emerge that would spread the disease along the lines of India. India is the epicenter of the tuberculosis epidemic with two million new cases annually.
WHO estimates that it needs another $4 billion or so to fulfill its plan to stop the spread of tuberculosis by 2005.
WHO calls for widespread free access to anti-TB drugs for people living with HIV. Press Release, World Health Organization, July 15, 2003.
TB drugs ‘should be free’. The BBC, July 15, 2003.
TB advocacy report 2003. World Health Organization, 2003.
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