U.N.: Africa declares TB emergency
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MAPUTO, Mozambique (Reuters) -- African health ministers have declared a tuberculosis emergency to muster greater political commitment to stop one of the continent's top killers, the United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.
"The declaration is a response to an epidemic that has quadrupled the annual number of new TB cases in 18 African countries since 1990 and continues to rise across the continent, killing more than half a million people every year," the WHO said in a statement after four days of talks in Mozambique.
Although cheap and easy to treat, tuberculosis is a leading cause of death among people who are HIV-positive, accounting for about 11 percent of AIDS deaths worldwide. It poses a headache in managing treatment of HIV, a huge problem for Africa, which is the focus of the world's worst HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"TB is the forgotten disease but it is an epidemic of an unprecedented magnitude. In Africa, there isn't much awareness that TB can be cured," said Marcos Espinal, executive secretary of the advocacy group Stop TB Partnership.
"It largely affects the poor and the problem is that they don't know symptoms, they live in crowded areas and have little access to education.
"TB spreads easily through the air ... This decision will galvanize action to help battle the disease," Espinal told Reuters in neighboring South Africa.
Declaration of a TB emergency should unlock more money from the Group of Eight industrialized nations, the United States and the Global Fund from where developing countries draw much of their cash for fighting AIDS and other diseases, the WHO says.
"It means that we will have to work to find the resources to fight TB and we will need to integrate this in the national health plans of our countries," Martinho Djedje, Mozambique's deputy national health director, told Reuters in Maputo.
HIV weakens the immune system, making sufferers more susceptible to infectious diseases like TB and pneumonia. Someone who is HIV-positive and infected with TB is five to seven times more likely to develop active TB than someone infected with TB but not infected with HIV, the WHO said.
"It [the declaration] urges African member states to commit more human and financial resources to strengthen ... [anti-TB] programs and scale up collaborative interventions to fight the co-epidemic of TB and HIV," the WHO said.
The declaration was part of a broader program which the WHO has outlined calling for $2.2 billion in new funding for TB control in Africa in 2006-2007, the WHO added.
Increasing infection rate
TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as an infectious killer of adults on the globe, causing nearly nine million cases of active disease and two million deaths every year.
It is tragic that this disease has not been brought under control, because I am living proof that TB can be effectively treated and cured.
-- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Although it has only 11 percent of the world's population, Africa accounts for more than a quarter of world cases, with an estimated 2.4 million TB cases and 540,000 TB deaths every year.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi pioneered the global TB control strategy now known as DOTS. But in the past 15 years TB incidences have soared to as high as seven-fold in Zimbabwe and five-fold in Kenya, partly due to the link with HIV, the WHO says.
Africans that have suffered from TB previously hailed the decision but were concerned it had taken so long.
"It is tragic that this disease has not been brought under control, because I am living proof that TB can be effectively treated and cured," said Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who along with former South African President Nelson Mandela is a survivor of the disease.
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