A UNITED Nations (UN) health agency on Thursday reported that more than 22 million people with tuberculosis (TB) infection worldwide have been successfully treated, adding that the number of deaths from the disease fell to 1.3 million last year.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in its Global Tuberculosis Report 2013, confirmed that the world is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of reversing TB incidence, along with the target of a 50 percent reduction in the mortality rate by 2015.
The UN health agency, in a news release, said that the report also underlines the need for a “quantum leap” in TB care and control which can only be achieved if two major challenges are addressed.
The report noted that around three million people – equal to one in three people falling ill with TB – are currently being ‘missed’ by health systems.
Also, the response to test and treat all those affected by multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is inadequate. Not only are the links in the MDR-TB chain weak, the links are simply not there yet, the report added. The agency estimated that around 450,000 people fell ill with MDR-TB in 2012 alone.
“Quality TB care for millions worldwide has driven down TB deaths,” Mario Raviglione, Global TB Programme director at WHO, said. “But far too many people are still missing out on such care and are suffering as a result. They are not diagnosed, or not treated, or information on the quality of care they receive is unknown.”
While the number of people detected worldwide with rapid diagnostic tests increased by more than 40 percent to 94,000 in 2012, three out of four MDR-TB cases still remain without a diagnosis, the report said.
It added that around 16,000 MDR-TB cases reported to the agency in 2012 were not put on treatment, with long waiting lists increasingly becoming a problem.
“The unmet demand for a full-scale and quality response to multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is a real public health crisis,” Dr. Raviglione said. “It is unacceptable that increased access to diagnosis is not being matched by increased access to MDR-TB care.”
“We have patients diagnosed but not enough drug supplies or trained people to treat them. The alert on antimicrobial resistance has been sounded; now is the time to act to halt drug-resistant TB,” Dr. Raviglione added.
According to the report, another challenge relates to the TB and HIV ‘co-epidemic’.
“While there has been significant progress in the last decade in scaling-up antiretroviral treatment for TB patients living with HIV, less than 60 percent were receiving antiretroviral drugs in 2012,” the report said.
The report also recommended five priority actions that could make a rapid difference between now and 2015. These include reaching the three million TB cases missed in national notification systems by expanding access to quality testing and care services across all relevant public, private or community based providers, including hospitals and non-governmental organizations which serve large proportions of populations at risk. NEIL A. ALCOBER