The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it was gaining ground in the fight against tuberculosis, but a leading aid agency said the fight was being lost.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it was gaining ground in the fight against tuberculosis, but a leading aid agency said the fight was being lost. In a report marking World Tuberculosis Day on Wednesday, the United Nations agency said three million of an estimated 8.8 million TB sufferers worldwide each year now received treatment. But some two million people still die from the disease, which mainly attacks the lungs, and the WHO said there was some way to go to reach its goal of detecting 70 percent of all infectious cases by 2005 and curing 85 percent of them. “It is thought that with currently available drugs and the DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course) control strategy, the tuberculosis epidemic can be controlled,” Catherine Watt, of WHO’s Stop TB Department, told journalists. “Nonetheless, there is ongoing research into new drugs and new diagnostic tools in order to speed and improve control,” she said. The agency’s DOTS strategy, launched a decade ago, was making inroads into the disease by improving patient surveillance and drug treatment, WHO officials said. But WHO’s generally optimistic tone contrasted sharply with the view of leading aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), based in Brussels. MSF called for an urgent increase in investment in new drugs and better diagnostic tests, arguing current tests were largely ineffective when HIV/AIDS was also involved. “We are losing the battle against tuberculosis because we rely on archaic diagnostic tests and drugs,” the aid group said. The main diagnostic test for the curable disease was invented in the 19th century and has only a 50 percent success rate in detecting TB in patients who also have HIV/AIDS, MSF said in a statement. The WHO said despite improvements by many African states in their TB control programs it was still struggling in Africa, where the disease formed a lethal partnership with HIV/AIDS. “The situation in Africa is very much on the edge mainly as a result of HIV… We mustn’t think that we’ve got it all sewn up. We think we can do it, but time will tell,” said the WHO’s Brian Williams. The number being treated under DOTS was one million more than two years ago. The WHO cited wider treatment in India — which has the highest number of cases — and in hard-hit South Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines. The infectious airborne disease causes coughing, fever, sweating and loss of appetite and weight.(Source: Reuters Health, March 2004)