The United Nations regional health agency for Africa today declared tuberculosis (TB) an emergency and called on Member States to commit more resources to fight an epidemic that has more than quadrupled the annual number of new cases since 1990, continues to rise and kills more than half a million people every year.
“Despite commendable efforts by countries and partners to control tuberculosis, impact on incidence has not been significant and the epidemic has now reached unprecedented proportions,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Luis Gomes Sambo told a meeting of health ministers in Maputo, Mozambique.
“Urgent and extraordinary actions must be taken, or else the situation will only get worse and the TB targets in the Abuja Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be achieved,” he added, referring to goals set by regional organizations and the MDG targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000.
A resolution adopted at the end of the 55th session of WHO’s Regional Committee for Africa, comprising health ministers from 46 countries, urged Member States to commit more human and financial resources to strengthen DOTS programmes and scale up collaborative interventions to fight the co-epidemic of TB and HIV.
DOTS, the internationally recommended strategy to control TB, combines five elements: political commitment, microscopy services, drug supplies, surveillance and monitoring systems, and the use of highly efficacious treatment regimes with direct observation of treatment.
These and other measures recommended by the Committee encompass those laid out in a blueprint developed by the global Stop TB Partnership, which calls for $2.2 billion in new funding for TB control in Africa during 2006-2007. In the other four WHO regions of the world, TB trends are either stable or in decline, and are on track to reach the MDG targets of halving TB prevalence and deaths by 2015.
Beyond more financial support, specific actions include: improving the quantity and quality of staff for TB control; rapidly enhancing detection and treatment with expanded DOTS coverage at national and district levels; managing of TB and HIV together with greater access to anti-retroviral therapy for patients co-infected with HIV; and expanded public-private and community participation.
Globally, TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as a cause of illness and death of adults, accounting for nearly 9 million cases of active disease and 2 million deaths every year. Although it has only 11 per cent of the world's population, Africa accounts for more than a quarter of this global burden with an estimated 2.4 million cases and 540,000 deaths annually.