Warning the international community that tuberculosis (TB) is spreading globally at an alarming rate, a broad coalition known as the Stop TB Partnership, which includes the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, yesterday launched a plan to reverse the epidemic, and appealed to governments in both developed and developing worlds to substantially increase their financial backing for it.
Vulnerable and poor populations across the globe are especially at risk of contracting the disease which is spread through the air, attacking the lungs, and killing gradually and painfully. For example, Afghanistan and Pakistan are already dealing with high TB infection rates. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are living in cramped conditions along their common border. In these circumstances there is a real risk that even more people will fall victim to the disease.
With a death toll of nearly two million people last year alone, TB's deadly association with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and growing drug-resistance to TB, the Stop TB Partnership said that TB is an imminent public health emergency.
The Global Plan to Stop TB will propose to expand national access to DOTS, the internationally accepted strategy through which healthcare workers and community volunteers treat people suffering from TB with a powerful combination of medicines, in ways that ensure the success of their lengthy treatment.
"Investing in global health issues like TB makes sense because improving health is a concrete measurable way of reducing poverty and inequity—both at country and global level. Investments in health are investments in human potential which, as we have seen, are the greatest resource for development," says WHO Director-General, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland.
"Investing in accelerated DOTS expansion will have a profound impact: 22 million people would be cured of TB and 16 million lives would be saved by 2005. WHO is proud to have worked with so many partners to have made this possible."
22 countries comprise almost 80 percent of the global TB burden. They include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Thailand, Tanzania, Uganda, Viet Nam, and Zimbabwe.
The Stop TB Partnership, set up in 1998, is comprised of more than 120 groups including George Soros' Open Society Institute which financed initial development of the plan. Stop TB describes it as a comprehensive business strategy that would accelerate efforts to control TB over the next five years and move towards its eventual elimination.
The Stop TB Partnership, which estimates that the plan would cost approximately US$ 9.3 billion to implement, says it faces a funding gap of about US$ 4.5 billion.
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