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WHO: TB among deadliest diseases

October 22, 2014

The World Health Organization has called tuberculosis one of the world's deadliest diseases. In 2013, TB killed 1.5 million people worldwide.

Südafrika Impfung gegen Tuberkulose Archiv 2011
Image: AFP/Getty Images/Rodger Bosch

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) presented its report on tuberculosis (TB) for 2014.

Though the overall mortality rate has declined by 45 percent since 1990, the number of deaths - especially of people infected with the hard-to-treat strains resistant to multiple drugs or extensively drug-resistant strains - is still too high, according to WHO.

"The death toll from this disease is unacceptably high," the report read. "A staggering number of lives are being lost to a curable disease."

Last year, there were 9 million new reported cases of tuberculosis, with 1.5 million of those being fatal.

The number of cases, however, continues to decrease: "TB is slowly declining each year and it is estimated that 37 million lives were saved between 2000 and 2013 through effective diagnosis and treatment."

The trend indicated that one of the Millennium Development Goals - established by a UN panel in 2000 - to reverse TB infection rates could be achieved by the deadline.

"The 2015 Millennium Development Goal of halting and reversing TB incidence has been achieved globally, in all six WHO regions and in most of the 22 high TB-burden countries," the report stated.

Multidrug-resistant TB alarming

Multidrug-resistant TB remains alarming - high cost prevented many people from getting proper diagnoses and treatment.

"There are severe epidemics in some regions, particularly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia," the report read, adding that for people infected with this strain, rates for successful treatment were "surprisingly low."

Grania Brigden, a TB expert with the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, said, as reported by the Reuters news agency, that the "alarming spread of drug-resistant TB from person to person in the former Soviet Union is of critical concern, along with the growth in MDR-TB and XDR-TB cases," she said, referring to multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strains of the disease.

"Access to proper treatment is drastically low: Only 1 in 5 people with multidrug-resistant TB receives treatment; the rest are left to die, increasing the risk to their families and communities and fueling the epidemic," she said in a statement.

Of all infectious diseases, only the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, kills more people than TB.

In Geneva, the WHO also announced that a lack of funding was inhibiting the global effort to get rid of the disease.

The organization reported that an estimated $8 billion (6.3 bilion euros) was needed annually to be able to tackle the disease fully - with a current shortfall of about $2 billion.

sb/mkg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)