Rio Conference: fight against TB too slow

The world has been too slow in fighting tuberculosis – this seems to be the main conclusion of the 3rd Stop TB Partners’ Forum in Rio de Janeiro. I am attending the conference as subeditor of the official newsletter, and must say that new data revealed today are not very encouraging.

According to the 2009 report of the World Health Organization, ‘Global tuberculosis control: epidemiology, strategy, financing’, the number of HIV positive patients who died of TB in 2007 (the latest data) was almost double as in previous years. It amounted to 456,000 of the 2 million deaths due to HIV, making TB the leading cause of death among HIV patients.

The Report also shows that TB that is resistant to drugs is spreading: there were 500 thousand cases reported in 2007. 

According to Dr Mario Raviglione, WHO Director in the Stop TB Department, incidence of TB is declining but at an incredibly slow rate: 1% per year. It would take “several millennia to eliminate TB” at this rate, he remarked.

Another important issue discussed in the Forum was the fact that the financial crisis is hampering the fight against TB.

The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is falling short by US$5 billion of its estimated budget for 2009-2010.

Plus the gap between available funding reported by 94 countries with 93% of global cases in 2009 and money needed in these countries in 2009 is US $1.6 billion, according to the WHO report.

That’s why the Executive Director for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria Dr Michel Kazatchkine urged countries to see health as an “investment” for social development rather than an expense. Maybe by using economic lingo they’ll understand.

Not that it’s untrue. In fact, a recent study by the International Labour Organization showed that every year the World Gross Domestic Product is reduced by US$25 billion as a result of AIDS and TB.

Marcos Espinal, the Executive Secretary of Stop TB Partnership Secretariat also stressed that 2/3 of the TB patients are between 15 to 55 years old – a “very productive period”, he says, and that’s why every dollar invested in care is multiplied by 15 when they go back to work.

Still, it is quite ironic that to convince governments to invest in saving lives one has to explain how much they can profit from it.