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The BBC's Greg Barrow
"People have become almost fatalistic about contracting the disease"
 real 56k

Saturday, 24 March, 2001, 08:32 GMT
World fighting growing TB threat
Ethiopian man recovering from TB during 2000 famine
The weak are more likely to fall prey to TB
World Tuberculosis Day has been launched in South Africa, a country with some of the highest levels of infection in the world.

Estimates say cases have doubled in parts of the country over the past five years, particularly in poor areas.


When you have TB, don't get despondent, just undertake your treatment

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Increases in TB infection in Africa as a whole have contributed to a global rise in cases, which were put at almost 8.5 million across the world in 1999. About a quarter of these cases result in death.

Tuberculosis cases have increased by 6% over two years, despite the widespread availability of drugs to tackle the condition. The World Health Organisation (WHO) drew attention to the growing number of cases to mark World Tuberculosis Day on Saturday.

TB scourge
5,000 deaths a day
World's biggest killer of women
HIV/Aids a factor in rise in cases
Curable with right drugs
Launching this year's campaign, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself once a TB sufferer, said those with the disease should ensure they seek treatment.

"There is life after TB," he said. "In fact when I had TB at one point they thought I was going to die and they told some people this - 'He's on his way out'.

TB cases in developing world
The disease is still largely confined to the developing world
"Well, I've been on my way out now for more than 50 years and I just want to say when you have TB, don't get despondent, just undertake your treatment and you will be well."

The most vulnerable are people with low resistance to disease - children and the elderly, the poor and people with HIV/Aids.

High-density housing and crowded prisons are also known to increase the risk of exposure.

Treatment

HIV has increased the risk of tuberculosis, because it weakens immune systems.


Where treatment is delivered in the correct way, we expect more than 90% of patients to be cured

Dr Chris Dye, WHO
Unlike Aids, there is a cure for TB - relatively cheap drugs are available.

But the difficulty is ensuring that patients complete their six-month course of antibiotics.

"Where treatment is delivered in the correct way, we expect more than 90% of patients to be cured," Chris Dye of the World Health Organisation told the BBC.

"The problem is that in many poor countries, those drugs are not available, or patients don't understand the importance - and indeed, health care workers don't understand the importance of patients completing a full course of treatment - and for those reasons, the cure rates are often quite low."

Potential for epidemic

Since the 1950s the prevalence of TB has fallen dramatically in developed countries, but it has remained a constant threat in the developing world, especially in Asia and Africa.

Tuberculosis bacterium
But experts fear the emergence of drug resistant strains
The emergence of drug-resistant strains of TB has renewed the threat it poses to the whole world.

That would transform the disease, already the world's leading infectious killer, into a candidate for a deadly epidemic.

To co-ordinate international efforts to fight the disease, the WHO set up an initiative last year called StopTB.

This week, StopTB opened a Global Drug Facility to finance and distribute enough drugs to treat up to 45 million patients by 2010.

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See also:

24 Mar 01 | Europe
Russia faces TB time bomb
27 Jan 01 | Health
Big rise in TB cases
17 Aug 00 | Health
TB 'toughness gene' uncovered
26 May 98 | T-Z
Tuberculosis
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