- LONDON - A tuberculosis epidemic is out of control in many countries
and unless action is taken nearly 1 billion more people will become infected
and 70 million will die in the next two decades, the World Health Organization
- At a three-day meeting in London that
ends Thursday, public health and tuberculosis experts have been assessing
whether 22 countries which account for 80% of the world's TB cases are
making progress towards controlling the infectious disease.
- "The TB epidemic is now increasing
in many countries, with devastating consequences," WHO said in a statement
summarizing a report to be released Thursday. "This year, more people
will die of TB than in any other year in history."
- Tuberculosis, which attacks mainly the
lungs, intestines, skin and brain, is a bigger killer than malaria and
AIDS combined, and kills more women than all the combined causes of maternal
mortality. Every year, between 2 and 3 million people die from TB, including
100,000 children, the Geneva-based U.N. agency said.
- In 1993, WHO took an unprecedented step
and declared tuberculosis a global emergency. Between 1993 and 1996, TB
cases increased 13% worldwide.
- Experts on the Ad Hoc Commission on the
Global Tuberculosis Epidemic have been examining new data to see how well
the 22 worst-affected countries are meeting WHO's global targets of detecting
70% of infectious TB cases and curing 85% of those by the year 2000.
- The countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh,
Brazil, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia,
Iran, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russia, South
Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam.
- One-third of the world's population is
infected with the TB bacillus, and between 5 and 10% will become sick with
pulmonary TB during their lifetime, the WHO said. Only those who are sick
are infectious, and they can transmit the disease by coughing, talking
- "It is estimated that between now
and 2020, nearly 1 billion more people will be newly infected, 200 million
people will get sick, and 70 million will die from TB - if control is not
strengthened," the group said.
- According to the WHO, there are nearly
3 million new TB cases in southeast Asia every year and nearly 2 million
new cases in sub-Saharan Africa.
- More than a quarter of a million new
cases occur annually in Eastern Europe, which is experiencing an increase
in TB deaths after almost 40 years of steady decline, WHO said.
- Since the 1940s, there have been drugs
to treat tuberculosis.
- But WHO said poorly managed TB treatment
programs are causing drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis to emerge,
"which could render TB incurable."
- Up to 50 million people may be infected
with drug-resistant TB, either because they did not take all their medicines
regularly for the required period - often because they start to feel better
- or because they receive the wrong drugs or don't have a reliable drug
supply, WHO said.
- TB treatment costs around $2,000 per
patient, but rises 100-fold to about $250,000 for patients with drug-resistant
strains, WHO said.