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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
World's biggest health threats
TB patients
Millions die each year from Aids, TB and malaria
Leaders of the world's richest countries have promised a $1bn global health fund to fight TB, malaria and Aids in developing countries.

BBC News Online looks at the health risks the diseases pose to the people in the poorer nations and how the cash from the G8 conference in Genoa can be used.


Each year millions die from diseases like Aids, TB and malaria.

But many could have survived if their countries' governments had been able to afford the life-saving drugs to beat the diseases.

The diseases highlighted by the G8 nations are the world's biggest killers. But areas like sub-Saharan Africa are particularly badly hit with all three diseases endemic.

Tuberculosis

According to figures from the World Health Organisation TB kills more young people and adults than any other infectious disease.

It causes more deaths globally than Aids and malaria combined.

TB blackspots include eastern Europe, south east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

A big killer throughout history, TB was responsible for 20% of all deaths in England and Wales in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Over the last two centuries with the use of penicillin and antibiotics it has declined.

TB bacteria
TB kills more people than Aids and malaria combined

But it started to rise again in the 1980's with the emergence of Aids.

Now scientists say the number of people around the world with TB has reached a 10-year-high.

One third of deaths of those who are HIV positive are TB related and those with HIV are 100 times more likely to develop TB than other members of the public.

In the developed world the disease is often perceived as mainly affecting the elderly, as a quarter of all cases occur in the over 65's.

But in the developing countries of Africa and South America, TB is most common among young adults.

Others who are at risk from the disease are diabetics, the malnourished, alcoholics and IV drug users.

Aids

Aids kills millions world-wide each year and in some countries is the leading cause of premature death.

Yet again sub-Saharan Africa, which can ill afford the expensive drug therapies is the worst hit.

More than 12 million children in sub-Saharan Africa - equivalent to the UK's entire child population - have been orphaned by Aids.

And by 2010, this number will have risen to 43 million and 15.4bn will have been wiped off the economy of South Africa alone.

Many of these deaths could have been delayed in the more affluent west, where combination drug therapies keep many HIV patients from developing full-blown Aids.

Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary of State, has long campaigned for a global fund to fight the disease, which has so far claimed 22m lives.

But even with the cash input there will still be problems. Should the money be spent on keeping alive those who have already contracted the disease and keeping them supplied with drugs?

Or should it all be ploughed into fighting the disease by prevention and promoting better measures such as sexual health and condom use.

And the elusive vaccine is still a number of years off.

Malaria

Malaria kills over a million people each year and is second only to tuberculosis in its impact on world health.

The disease, spread by mosquitoes, is endemic in 90 countries and affects one in 10 of the world's population - mainly people living in Africa, India, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Colombia and the Solomon Islands.

But nearly 90% of all malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa where it is the main cause of death and a major threat to child health.

Malarial mosquito
Malaria can be effectively treated with drugs

A child dies from malaria every 30 seconds and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the disease, which can be cured if it is diagnosed early enough.

With the right drugs the disease can be tackled and most people survive a bout of malaria after a 10-20 day illness.

But in many developing countries the drugs are simply not available and the patients die.

Another frightening development is that the disease is becoming resistant to traditional treatments.

In some parts of Asia, none of the major drugs are effective in fighting it.

Even the mosquitoes are developing a resistance to the main insecticide used to cull them.

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


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