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WHO Report: Global TB Rates Fall, But Disease Burden Remains ‘Enormous’

Funding gaps may slow future research (Oct. 17)

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that an estimated 20 million people are alive today as a direct result of tuberculosis (TB) care and control.

However, “the momentum to break this disease is in real danger,” says Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop TB Department. “We are now at a crossroads between TB elimination within our lifetime, and millions more TB deaths.”

New data in the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2012 confirm that TB remains a major infectious disease. The findings show:

  • A continued decline in the number of people with TB, but still an enormous global burden of 8.7 million new cases in 2011
  • An estimated 1.4 million deaths from TB, including half a million women
  • Reduced rates of new disease and deaths in all of WHO’s six regions

The report applauds the worldwide roll-out of a new diagnostic device that can test patients for TB — including drug-resistant TB — in just 100 minutes. The fully automated nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), which can diagnose TB and rifampicin-resistant disease, is now available in 67 low- and middle-income countries. Adoption of the “while you wait” test is expected to grow following a recent 41% decrease in the price of the test.

The WHO report also anticipates medical breakthroughs from new TB drugs, which could be on the market as early as 2013. Tools to prevent, detect, and treat all forms of TB are steadily advancing through the R&D pipeline, the report says.

A new TB vaccine and a “point-of-care” diagnostic test could be available within the next decade. But delivering new tools will come at a cost — the report notes that there is currently a US $1.4 billion funding gap for research and development. In addition, a US $3 billion funding shortfall per year is expected to occur between 2013 and 2015, which could have severe consequences for TB control, the report warns.

Source: WHO, October 17, 2012.

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