Press Release WHO/32
23 March 1998
WORLD TB DAY MARKED BY HUNDREDS OF ORGANIZATIONS
On 24 March 1998, the World Health Organization joins hundreds of organizations to commemorate the day in 1882 when Dr Robert Koch announced his discovery of the TB bacillus. This hailed the treatment, cure and potential elimination of the disease.
This year, despite a cost-effective strategy to detect and cure TB, more people will die of the disease than in any other year in history. It is estimated that by 2020, 70 million more people will die from TB if control is not strengthened.
The epidemic is now rising in many endemic countries, with devastating consequences. In some countries, there has been little improvement in TB control programmes since WHO declared tuberculosis a global emergency in 1993. Poorly managed programmes are causing drug-resistant strains of TB. HIV and TB form a lethal combination, each speeding the other's progress. There are startling increases in the number of TB cases in Eastern Europe, after 40 years of steady decline.
"Too much time and too many lives have been lost to the TB epidemic," said Dr Arata Kochi, Director of the WHO Global Tuberculosis Programme (GTB). "Global targets will not now be met and progress in TB control has stalled in key countries around the world. This is no longer a technical issue. Conquering the epidemic is now a question of political will backed with finances for TB control. Political leaders need to seize the initiative.
"We have a treatment strategy that works and is showing astounding cure rates of up to 90 percent in parts of the world where it is being used. But slow, limited and poorly funded efforts to apply the proven DOTS strategy mean far too many people are falling ill and dying of what should be an easily curable disease," said Dr Kochi. DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course) is the TB control strategy recommended by WHO and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
Tuberculosis is a contagious disease. Like the common cold, it spreads through the air. Overall, one third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacillus. Between 5 and 10 percent of people who are infected become sick or infectious at some time during their lifetime. Left untreated, each person with active TB will infect on average between 10 and 15 people in each year. Last year, over seven million people became sick and nearly three million died of TB.
Note to editors
- The WHO-recommended treatment strategy DOTS combines five elements: political commitment, case detection through sputum smear microscopy, directly observed short-course treatment, regular drug supplies, and monitoring systems. Once infectious cases have been detected using microscopy services, health and community workers and trained volunteers observe and record patients swallowing the correct dosage of anti-TB medicines, and document that the patient has been cured. The most common anti-TB drugs are isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide, streptomycin and ethambutol.
- For further information, please contact Becky Owens on +41 22 791 2630 or Susannah Cox on +41 22 791 2672.
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