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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK

World: South Asia

TB meeting targets women

South Asian women are particularly vulnerable to TB

Experts from South Asian countries have started a three-day meeting in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, to discuss effective measures to control tuberculosis in the region.

Officials said the meeting would focus on ways to control TB among women, which they say has largely remained unnoticed.

[ image:  ]
Representatives from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives - which make up the seven-country South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc) - are taking part in the meeting.

Tuberculosis is the single biggest infectious killer in the region.

One million people die of TB every year in South Asia, while another three million suffer from the disease.

Focus on women

Experts say, poor women - both young and adult - are highly vulnerable to the disease, but such cases largely go unnoticed.

They attribute this to widespread gender-bias against women in these societies.

Women have relatively low social and economic status and less access to education.

Director of the Saarc TB Centre Dr Dirgha Singh Bam said the Kathmandu meeting would focus on bringing this issue to the limelight, and recommend measures to control TB among women.

The World Health Organisation has said the response of some South Asian governments to the tuberculosis epidemic has been inadequate.

Growing numbers

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are among the top 22 countries worst affected by the disease, which is among six diseases that account for over 50% of deaths among children and young adults.

[ image: The WHO is concerned about the rise in TB cases]
The WHO is concerned about the rise in TB cases
They top the list of countries with the highest number of TB cases that do not have access to WHO-recommended treatment.

The figures for India alone show there are 300,000 deaths, and one million new cases annually.

The number of people becoming infected is also growing across the whole region.

Women are seen as being at particular risk, with tuberculosis being the most common cause of death among young women between the ages of 15 and 44.

The disease has also increased among those infected with the HIV-virus, now widespread in South Asia.

Sex workers are often infected with HIV, which leads them to get tuberculosis and pass it on to others.

The WHO is urging countries in South Asia to make greater efforts to combat the disease, as failure to complete treatment programmes is leading to multi-drug resistance.

It says antibiotic resistant cases of TB are increasing around India's capital, Delhi.

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