WINDHOEK: Africa is not yet on track to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG) target of halting and reversing the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic by 2015.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Global Tuberculosis report 2012 issued on Wednesday warned that while an estimated 20 million people are alive today as a direct result of TB care and control, the global fight against the disease remains fragile.
The Director of the WHO ‘Stop TB’ Department, Dr Mario Raviglione, was quoted as saying that the momentum to break the disease is in real danger.
“We are now at a crossroads between TB elimination within our lifetime, and millions more TB deaths,” said Raviglione.
According to data from 204 countries and territories, there is a continued decline in the number of people falling ill from TB, but still an enormous global burden of 8.7 million new cases in 2011.
Estimated 1.4 million deaths from TB, including half-a-million women, underlines that the disease is one of the world’s top killers of women.
There is also praise in the report for the worldwide roll-out of a new diagnostic device that can test patients for TB, including drug-resistant TB, in just 100 minutes.
The fully-automated nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), which can diagnose TB and rifampicin-resistant disease, is now available in 67 low- and middle-income countries.
Adoption of the ‘while you wait’ test is expected to further accelerate, following a recent 41 per cent fall in the price of the test.
The report also pointed to the promise of medical breakthroughs from new TB drugs – the first in over 40 years – which could be on the market as early as 2013. Indeed, tools to prevent, detect and treat all forms of TB are steadily advancing.
In the space of 17 years, 51 million people have been successfully treated and cared for in accordance with WHO recommendations.
Raviglione said these achievements have been secured by leadership in endemic countries, and international support.
Further down the line, progress means that a new TB vaccine and ‘point-of-care’ diagnostics could be available within the next decade.
But delivering new tools come at a cost – and the report notes that there is a US dollars 1.4 billion (about N.dollars 12 billion) funding gap per year for research and development.
To address this, the WHO called for targeted international donor funding and continued investments by countries themselves to safeguard recent gains and ensure continued progress.