Over the last few years, the overall prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) has decreased, however the bacterium that causes the disease is quickly changing and becoming resistant to many of the drugs currently used to treat it.
Internationally, TB causes 1.4 million deaths every year, more than any infectious disease apart from HIV. The majority of funding to fight TB comes from the Global Fund. The WHO says it is crucial that efforts to raise money succeed this year, because of the rising threat of multidrug-resistant TB.
Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO said:
"We are treading water at a time when we desperately need to scale up our response to MDR-TB. We have gained a lot of ground in TB control through international collaboration, but it can easily be lost if we do not act now."
The Global Fund and the WHO have found a gap of $1.6 billion USD in yearly international support to combat TB in 118 low and middle income nations, in addition to the $3.2 billion USD that could be provided by those countries themselves.
By closing this gap, comprehensive treatment for 17 million TB and multidrug-resistant TB patients could be provided - saving close to 6 million lives between 2014 and 2016.
The announcement comes just before World TB day on March 24th, commemorating the same date in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch discovered the mycobacterium that produces tuberculosis.
The Millennium Development Goal of reversing the TB epidemic has been reached, yet the 2 percent reduction in the number of people infected with TB each year is still too low. It looks as though Africa and Europe will not achieve the goal of reducing the TB death rate by 50% between 1990 and 2015.
In January of this year, a resistant tuberculosis drug Sirturo (bedaquiline) was approved by the FDA.
In 2011, 1.4 million people died because of TB, with the highest death rate being in Africa. There are estimated to be 630,000 people infected with multidrug-resistant TB worldwide. If new medications are not found soon, TB could become an extremely serious public health problem.
In the 118 countries eligible for Global Fund support, there were four priority areas identified to decrease deaths, ease suffering, reduce transmission and contain the spread of drug resistance:
- Expanded diagnosis and effective treatment for drug-susceptible TB - a total of $2.6 billion USD are needed each year from 2014 through 2016.
- $1.3 billion USD every year are required for immediate and effective treatment for multidrug-resistant TB.
- $600 million USD are required annually to maintain the growth in new rapid diagnostics and linked laboratory strengthening for the diagnosis of TB and multi-drug resistant TB among people with HIV.
- About $330 million USD are needed for HIV-associated TB interventions - testing TB patients for HIV, giving TB preventive treatment, and testing TB patients for HIV.
"It is critical that we raise the funding that is urgently needed to control this disease. If we don't act now, our costs could skyrocket. It is invest now or pay forever."
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald