Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on World Tuberculosis Day, observed 24 March:
More people die from tuberculosis (TB) than from any other curable infectious disease in the world. The disease kills approximately 2 million people every year, 98 per cent of them in developing countries. One third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacillus.
Despite the size of this pandemic, TB has long been neglected by international donors. By 1990, total external aid flows for the disease had dwindled to a meager $16 million a year.
This prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare tuberculosis a global emergency. That declaration, ten years ago, was the first such declaration in WHO's history and generated much-needed momentum and led to important progress in a number of areas. Roughly 10 million tuberculosis patients have successfully completed treatment under the Directly Observed Therapy Short-Course (DOTS) strategy, one of the world's most cost-effective public health interventions, which has not only saved lives, but has also helped to reduce the relentless spread of TB infection.
The number of countries that are embracing and implementing the DOTS strategy has grown to 155, covering more than 60 per cent of the world's population. The Global Partnership to Stop TB, launched by WHO in 2000, has quickly grown to include more than 250 member organizations, which coordinate their efforts through working groups on DOTS expansion, TB/HIV co-infection, multidrug-resistant TB and research on new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines. The Global Drug Facility, a mechanism aimed at ensuring universal access to TB drugs, has approved grants to developing countries for 1.8 million patient treatments since its launch in March 2001. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, also established in 2001, should help to attract much-needed funding and to promote public-private partnerships. Perhaps the most critical recent achievement has been the Global Plan to Stop TB -- a landmark document that provides a clear strategy with yearly targets, specified inputs and measurable outcomes to cut the TB burden in half by 2010 relative to 2000 levels.
Such progress gives reason for hope, but there is little room for complacency. Indeed, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has emerged as a serious threat to further inroads against TB, since people suffering from tuberculosis are more vulnerable to opportunistic diseases.
TB can be controlled, cured and prevented. On World Tuberculosis Day, let us pledge to do more to strengthen and expand DOTS programmes in order to meet the global targets of detecting 70 per cent of all infectious TB cases and curing 85 per cent of those detected by 2005.